What Is the Ring OF Fire?
What is The Ring Of Fire? The Ring Of Fire ( Pacific Ring Of Fire) is essentially a 40,000 KM ( 25,000 MI) horseshoe shaped area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. It is currently home to 452 volcanoes, with 20 of those being major volcanoes. Over 75% of all active and dormant volcanoes in the world are located here including Mt. St. Helen's and Mt. Fuji. It includes sections of North America, South America, Asia, Australia, Russia, and Antarctica.
The Ring Of Fire has taken millions of years to evolve to form its current state. It has even formed new islands and land from tectonic plate movement and volcanic eruptions in the ocean.
The Ring Of Fire isn't just about volcanoes, it is also an area highly prone to earthquakes and large seismic activity, mainly caused by active tectonic plate movement. Around 90% of earth's earthquakes occur here in the Ring Of Fire. To date, 75% of the world's largest earthquakes have occurred here.
The Ring Of Fire is home to such famous volcanoes as Mount St. Helen's, Mount Fuji, Mount Pinatubo, Paricutin, and Christchurch.
Tectonic Plate Movement
Tectonic plates are like giant rafts of the earth's surface which often slide next to, collide with, and are forced underneath other plates.
Around the Ring of Fire, the Pacific plate is colliding and sliding underneath other plates. This process is known as subduction and the volcanically and seismically active area close by is known as the subduction zone. A large amount of energy is created by these plates as they melt rock into magma, which rises to the surface as lava and forms volcanoes.
The eastern side is the Nazca plate and the Cocos plate, subducting under the westward moving South American plate. While part of the Pacific plate and the Juan De Fuca plate are being subducted under the North American plate.
The northern portion consists of the Pacific plate moving beneath the Aleutian Islands arc, and the Kamchatka Peninsula, south across Japan.
The main south region is more complex with many smaller plates colliding with the Pacific plate in New Zealand, Philippines, Tonga Islands, and the Mariana Islands.
Some major events in the Ring Of Fire include:
- May 1960 - 9.5 Earthquake - Valdivia, Chile. 1655 people killed and over 2 million displaced. It caused over $552 million USD in damage. Two weeks later the nearby volcano Puyehue erupted, sending ash into the atmosphere for several months.
- December 2004 - 9.0 Earthquake - Off the coast of Sumatra, caused a powerful tsunami in the Indian Ocean that hit 12 Asian countries, killing more than 228,000 and leaving millions homeless. It was the deadliest tsunami in Earth's history.
- March 2011 - 9.0 Earthquake - Sendai, Japan. So far the death toll from the tsunami and earthquake is in the thousands. Some experts believe it will reach well over 10,000 total deaths.
- March 1964 - 9.2 Earthquake - Alaska. This earthquake and tsunami took 128 lives in total and caused over $312 million in damage.
- November 1952 - 9.0 Earthquake - Sumatra. This earthquake also caused a large tsunami that caused around $1 million in damage, but no one was killed.
A Record Year
Researchers have come to the possibility that the Ring Of Fire could be awakening to a more dramatic and stronger impact. Overall in 2010, magnitude 7 range earthquakes increased 61 % compared to the last 10 year average, with the majority being in the Ring Of Fire.
Will 2011 earthquake numbers increase over 2010 totals? There is a possibility, but either way the Ring Of Fire will play a huge part.
For more on volcanoes check out these articles: