Radar (SAR) satellites systematically acquire imagery that can be used for volcano monitoring, characterising magmatic systems and potentially forecasting eruptions on a global scale. However, exploiting the large dataset is limited by the need for manual inspection, meaning timely dissemination of information is challenging. Here we automatically process ~ 600,000 images of > 1000 volcanoes acquired by the Sentinel-1 satellite in a 5-year period (2015–2020) and use the dataset to demonstrate the applicability and limitations of machine learning for detecting deformation signals. Of the 16 volcanoes flagged most often, 5 experienced eruptions, 6 showed slow deformation, 2 had non-volcanic deformation and 3 had atmospheric artefacts. The detection threshold for the whole dataset is 5.9 cm, equivalent to a rate of 1.2 cm/year over the 5-year study period. We then use the large testing dataset to explore the effects of atmospheric conditions, land cover and signal characteristics on detectability and find that the performance of the machine learning algorithm is primarily limited by the quality of the available data, with poor coherence and slow signals being particularly challenging. The expanding dataset of systematically acquired, processed and flagged images will enable the quantitative analysis of volcanic monitoring signals on an unprecedented scale, but tailored processing will be needed for routine monitoring applications.