The Pacific Ring of fire is a region of high volcanic and seismic activity that surrounds the majority of the Pacific Ocean Basin. This region is essentially a horsehoe of geologic activity that includes volcanoes, earthquakes, deep see trenches, and major fault zones. The Ring of Fire is over 40,000 km long and touches 4 of the world’s continents as well as major island chains.
The Pacific Ring of Fire is inherently made up of the plate boundaries that border the Pacific Ocean basin. The eastern side of the Ring of Fire is the result of the Nazca and Coco Plates subducting beneath the South American plate. Subduction is when one plate is forced beneath another. This normally happens when one plate is heavier and thicker than the other. Up near North America part of the Pacific Plate and the Juan de Fuca plate are being subducted under the North American plate. The northern part of the Ring of Fire is the subduction zone of the Pacific plate and the Aleutian Islands. The other areas are the region near Japan and through Oceana. On average the subduction zones see plate movement of up to 10 centimeters per year.
The Ring of Fire is the home of many of the most famous and well known fault zones and and volcanoes on the planet. Some of them are probably familiar to you. For example the most recent earthquake that rocked Chile occurred because of the fault zone off the coast of Chile which is a part of the Ring of Fire. The other well known zone is the Cascade volcano chain in North America. The most well known volcano is Mt. St. Helens. On the other side of the Pacific ocean there are even more famous famous volcanoes like Mount Fuji and Krakatoa.
The Ring of Fire is a crucial region for many reasons. It serves as one of the main boundary regions for the tectonic plates of over over half of the globe. It also affects the life of millions if not billions of people who live in these regions. For many of the people who live in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the reality of a volcanic eruption or earthquake is commonplace and a challenge they have come to deal with over time. At the same time the volcanic activity has also provided many valuable resources such as rich farmland.
If you have enjoyed this article there are several others on Universe Today that you will find interesting. There is a great article about Chile’s volcanoes. There is also a great article about plate tectonics.
You can also find some good resources online. There is a companion site for the PBS program Savage Earth that talks about the Ring of Fire. You can also check out the USGS site to see a detailed map of the Pacific Ring of Fire and more detailed information about plate tectonics.
You can also listen to Astronomy Cast. Episode 141 talks about volcanoes.