How many active volcanoes are there?
The answer to this common question depends upon use of the word "active." At least 20 volcanoes will probably be erupting as you read these words. The number is also dependent on what time scale is included, and if only confirmed eruptions are counted, or uncertain eruptions and the opinions of volcanologists are considered. Because dormant intervals between major eruptions at a single volcano may last hundreds to tens of thousands of years, dwarfing the relatively short observational record in many regions, it is misleading to restrict usage of "active volcano" to recorded human memories: we prefer to add another identifying word (e.g. "Holocene" volcano). The numbers will change as new research is published, new age dates are acquired, or new criteria are applied and volcanoes are reviewed.
Here are a few statistics (at last database update on 23 Feb 2023):
- Volcanoes with continuing eruptions: 47
- Volcanoes that erupted during 2023: 52
- Volcanoes that erupted during 2022: 80
- Volcanoes with confirmed observed eruptions: 563
- Volcanoes with confirmed eruptions since 1800: 531
- Volcanoes with confirmed eruptions since 1960: 334
- Volcanoes with confirmed Holocene eruptions: 859
- Volcanoes thought to have Holocene eruptions: 1,328
- Average annual new eruptions (2010-2021): 35
- Average annual total eruptions (2010-2021): 79
- Average annual volcanoes active (2010-2021): 73
The definition of "volcano" is as important in answering the number question as the definition of "active." Usage has varied widely, with "volcano" applied to individual vents, volcanic edifices, or volcanic fields. We have tended toward the broader definition in our compilations, allowing the record of a single large plumbing system to be viewed as a whole, but this approach often requires careful work in field and laboratory to establish a common magmatic link. Perhaps the most honest answer to the number question is that we do not really have an accurate count of the world's volcanoes, but that there are at least a thousand identified magma systems—on land alone—likely to erupt in the future.
Global Volcanism Program, 2023. [Database] Volcanoes of the World (v. 5.0.3; 1 Mar 2023). Distributed by Smithsonian Institution, compiled by Venzke, E. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.VOTW5-2022.5.0