Home Environment Guide What is the Ring of Fire and how is it affecting the world

What is the Ring of Fire and how is it affecting the world

by Dr Prem Community Writer
Ring-of-Fire

The Ring of Fire we’re talking about is quite different from any other Ring of Fire you have heard of earlier. It is actually a huge number of volcanoes and other seismic activity sites around the Pacific Ocean’s edges. Almost 90% earthquakes which occur on Earth, occur along this ring. The ring, which is actually shaped like a horseshoe has 75% of Earth’s active volcanoes. The ring stretches to a length of 40,000 kms or 25,000 miles. It starts from the South America’s southern tip, goes up to the North American coast, crosses Bering Strait, goes down through Japan to reach New Zealand. It is closed by the many dormant and active volcanoes of Antarctica.

What exactly is the Ring of Fire?

Ring-of-Fire

The ring of volcanoes and earthquake prone sites lining the Pacific Ocean is also known as Circum-Pacific belt. If you want to know how many volcanoes are in the Ring of Fire, there are 452 volcanoes in this ring. The Ring of Fire traces meeting points of many tectonic plates, namely, the North America, Eurasian, Juan de Fuca, Nazca, Cocos, Caribbean, Antarctic Australian, Indian, Philippine as well as other small plates which encircle the Pacific Plate.

The Ring of Fire has developed due to the movements of the tectonic plates. The tectonic plates constantly move on the top of a liquid/molten or solid rock layer of the Earth, called mantle. The plates collide, slide past or move away from each other. When the plates collide, volcanoes may erupt and earthquakes take place along the lines where the plates meet, called the fault lines.

You might have heard that the ‘epicenter’ of an earthquake is hundreds of miles away, in the ocean. This is due to plates colliding, creating the centers or epicenters of earthquakes. The plates’ movement also give rise to extremely deep ocean trenches. The ring is home to Mariana Trench, which is the deepest of all ocean trenches. It is located east of the country Guam, and is 7 miles deep.

Now, we know how many volcanoes are in the Ring of Fire – 452, and imagine if suddenly due to a big collision of tectonic plates, many of these volcanoes would erupt! There would be chaos and destruction all around!

How did the Ring of Fire shape the earth

The movement of the plates in the Ring of Fire shaped the ocean floor and the land around it, millions of years ago, and even now, the earth is being shaped minutely and gradually by the Earth’s plates.

How volcanoes were formed

Ring-of-Fire

Convergent plate boundaries are formed by the plates colliding with each other. The convergent boundaries then create subduction zones where the heavy plate goes under the lighter tectonic plate, creating a trench. The subduction change the solid, denser mantle into liquid, buoyant magma. This magma then rises through the Earth’s crust to the surface, and the magma rising up creates the active volcanoes in the ring. These volcanoes are known as the volcanic arc.

The 27 active volcanoes of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska were created by the converging tectonic plates. If the water from Pacific Ocean is drained out, you would see the series of ocean trenches which are parallel to the corresponding volcanic arcs along Ring of Fire. Arcs have created continental mountain ranges such as the Andes (which is home to the world’s highest volcano – Nevados Ojos del Salado), and islands as well.

How the ocean floor was shaped

In the Ring of Fire, the ocean floor was shaped by the tectonic plates sliding away, giving rise to ‘divergent boundaries’. The magma which rises up due to plates pulling away is cooled by the seawater, and transformed into new crust. The continuous process of pulling away of the plates (for millions of years), magma rising and then cooled and transformed has given rise to the high ridges we can see on the oceans’ floor.

One of the examples of ridges being created on the seafloor is the East Pacific Rise, which is situated on divergent boundary of the Cocos Plate and Nazca Plate as well as the Antarctic Plate. The largest volcanoes’ group is underwater in the Pacific Ocean, between the coast of Southern Peru and Northern Chile.

How the faults were formed

Ring-of-Fire

When tectonic plates slide past horizontally, then some parts of these plates get stuck at those places which they touch. A lot of stress builds up in those places where the plates are stuck, as the rest of the tectonic plates move. The dangers of the Ring of Fire is that when the stress becomes too much, the rock slips or breaks, causing severe earthquakes. The areas of slippage or breakage are known as ‘faults’. Most of the Earth’s faults are along the transform boundaries in the Ring of Fire.

One of the most famous faults which you may have heard of or seen, is the San Andreas Fault. Movement along this fault caused the devastating earthquake in 1906 in San Francisco. It destroyed almost 500 city blocks, killed 3,000 people and almost half of the city’s population was left homeless.  The movement of the tectonic plates causes 90% of world’s earthquakes and Tsunamis, including the Valdivia earthquake (Chile), 1960, which measured 9.5 on the Richter scale. These earthquakes are examples of the dangers of the Ring of Fire. 

Countries on the Circum-Pacific belt or Ring of Fire

The countries situated on Ring of Fire face earthquakes and volcanoes erupting whenever the tectonic plates move. The Ring of Fire countries which are most affected are Canada, Alaska, United States, New Zealand, Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia), Indonesia, Japan, Peru, Mexico, Chile and the Philippines.

All the Ring of Fire countries have faced extremely devastating natural calamities, such as volcano eruption, earthquake, and tsunamis. One of the largest tsunamis on record was 220 ft in Alaska’s Shoup Bay. Japan, which is at the meeting point of no less than four plates – the North American, Pacific, Philippine and Eurasian Experiences 10% of all Earthquakes on earth. Indonesia is the country which has suffered the most due to the Ring of Fire, as we have seen recently.