You may have heard the term “Ring of Fire” when people talk about earthquakes and volcanoes but do you know what they are talking about? What is the Ring of Fire? Let’s find out.
The Ring of Fire, also called the Circum-Pacific Belt, is an area around the Pacific Ocean where 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur and 75% of the world’s volcanoes are. They call it the “Ring of Fire” because its edges mark a circle of high volcanic and seismic activity but it’s actually not a ring at all but more like a horse shoe shape.
Why is there so much seismic activity around the Ring of Fire?
This is the result of plate tectonics. So what is plate tectonics? Plate tectonics is the theory that the Earth’s outer crust is made up of a bunch of solid plates that lie on top of the more liquid and heated Earth’s mantle. These plates are like puzzle pieces and are constantly moving, causing them to rub up against each other. Imaging having a boiled egg in your and dropping it on the floor. When you examine the egg, you’ll notice the shell has broken into separate pieces but still stuck to the egg. This is what the Earth’s plates look like.
The Pacific Plate, where the Pacific Ocean is, is constantly growing which causes it to rub against the much more solid and dense continental plates around it. When these plates rub against each other and there is enough pressure, the oceanic plate gives in as it sinks beneath the continental plate. These areas are called subduction zones. You can demonstrate this by using crackers or cookies and pressing them against each other horizontally. If you put enough pressure from one side you’ll notice that they start to crumble a bit and one side usually goes down. This is what’s happening all around the Ring of Fire on a much more massive scale which causes earthquakes, creates volcanoes, mountains, and trenches.
Next, let’s look at the different types of plate boundaries to learn about how earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, and trenches are created.
Convergent boundaries are formed when two tectonic plates converge, or crash into each other. The heavier plate gets pushed under the lighter plate and creates a trench. As the plate gets pushed further into the earth, the plate melts and gets turned into magma, which rises through the crust to the Earth’s surface. This is how volcanoes and mountains are formed!
An example of this are the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. The Pacific Plate subducts under the North American Plate creating the Aleutian Trench. The result also created the islands as magma spewed out over millions of years and hardened to form the islands.
Another example are the famous Andes Mountains in South America. They were created as the Nazca Plate subducted under the South American Plate. It is home to Nevados Ojos del Salado which is one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
Divergent boundaries are formed when tectonic plates diverge, or are pulling apart and new crust is created by magma pushing up from the earth. The newly formed crust can remain deep in the ocean creating underwater ridges or can rise to the surface to form islands and volcanoes. The East Pacific Rise is the mid-oceanic ridge that’s located along the floor of the Pacific Ocean that’s continuously pushing the oceanic plates outward into continental plates and causing seismic activity around the ring of fire.
Transform boundaries are formed when two plates slide against each other in a sideways motion. Plates are not smooth so when they rub against each other they often get jammed up. The pressure builds up until the earth gives way in which case a sudden movement of the earth causes an earthquake. You can demonstrate this by making a fist with both your hands and combining them both together like you’re giving yourself a fist pump. Then move your knuckles side to side. You’ll notice that your knuckles interlock and you have to put some pressure in order to move to the next knuckle. This is basically what is happening at a transform boundary and the sudden movement is what causes the earthquake. In contrast to convergent and divergent boundaries, no magma is formed. Therefore, the crust is not created nor destroyed.
Transform boundaries produce some of the most intense earthquakes in the world. A famous example of a transform boundary is the San Andreas fault that runs along the California coast that destroyed almost 80% of San Francisco in The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
The Ring of Fire is indeed a dangerous place. But because of it’s location on the coast, there are a lot of major cities and ports located on it. Such big cities include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Tokyo, Mexico City, Santiago, Jakarta, and Manila. With so many people living on it, the risks of having volcanic or seismic activity is very high so the best thing they should do is be prepared. Do you remember the massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake that devastated Japan and caused a massive tsunami that was felt all the way in North America? How about the 2004 Indonesia earthquake that killed over 230,000 people just after Christmas? These are one of the most deadly earthquakes within the past decade or so on the ring of fire.
Let’s help spread awareness and preparedness to keep more people safe. You might think “It will never happen to me” but earthquakes strike without notice. You never know when they will hit and you’re better off being prepared than not.