The Pacific Ring of Fire is a region that surrounds the Earth’s Pacific Ocean, and is known for its volcanoes and earthquake activity. The Ring of Fire has a total of 452 volcanoes, and has 75% of the Earth’s active and dormant volcanoes. The whole Ring of Fire stretches for 40,000 km in length.
The Ring of Fire is created by the Earth’s plate tectonics. The Earth’s crust is broken up into plates which float on top of the mantle. When these plates come together, you can get volcanoes and earthquakes. The eastern side of the Ring of Fire has the Nazca Plate and the Cocos Plate being subducted (going underneath) the South American Plate. And in the North, the Pacific Plate and the Juan de Fuca Plate are being subducted underneath the North American Plate. The Pacific plate is also subducting underneath the Kamchatka Peninsula and Japan.
Because of all this subduction, there are many cracks in the Earth’s crust where magma can reach the surface and erupt as volcanoes. There are volcanoes in Chile, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand and Antarctica.
Some of the most famous volcanoes on Earth are in the Ring of Fire. A famous volcano, Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980 is a good example, or Mount Rainier in Washington State, or Mount Shasta in California. The recent eruption of Mount Redoubt in Alaska is part of the Ring of Fire. And so are Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and Mount Fuji in Japan.
The Ring of Fire has produced more than just volcanoes. It has also created islands and mountain chains around the Pacific Ocean. The Aleutian Islands in Alaska are all volcanic, and Japan is part of the subduction of the Pacific Plate going underneath the Eurasian Plate.
I personally live in the Ring of Fire, so I’m aware that there are dangers to living in this part of the world. There can be powerful earthquakes, huge tsunami, and new volcanic eruptions. Every year the Ring of Fire volcanoes demonstrate just how active they still are.
We have also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast about Earth, as part of our tour through the Solar System – Episode 51: Earth.