It has been said that about 90% of all earthquakes occur along this place, which is also home to 75% of all active and dormant volcanoes on Earth. Interestingly, all but 3 of the world’s largest eruptions in the last 11,700 years have occurred here. The Ring of Fire, as opposed to its literal meaning, is a 40,000 km long, horse-shoe shaped, seismically active area in the Pacific Basin, which is highly prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. Such is the strength of the ‘fire’ power in its area, that the entire basin earned its name purely on merit.
The Ring of Fire, is resultant of tectonic plate movement. Tectonic plates are huge slabs of the Earth’s crust, which fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The plates are not fixed, but are constantly in motion on the crest of a layer called the mantle. Sometimes these plates collide, move apart, or slide next to each other.
The Pacific Plate, on which the ring is situated, is the largest tectonic plate of our dear planet, and spreads over an area of 103 million square kilometres. Most of the active volcanoes in this area are found underwater.
It is said that if the water is drained out of the Pacific Ocean, one would be able to see a series of deep ocean trenches that run parallel to volcanic arcs, which are found along the Ring of Fire. These arcs create both islands and continental mountain ranges.
There’s high probability that one would think and re-think a million times before buying a real estate in this area. However, there are densely-packed cities setup in this shaky region and strangely enough, there are hundreds and millions of people inhabiting the previously mentioned, densely-packed cities.
The island nation of Japan, which lies on the western (or eastern depending on where you are standing) edge of the ring, is one of the most tectonically-active places on Earth with over 10% of the volcanic eruptions occurring in this country. Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain- Mt. Fuji, is an active volcano located in, you guessed it, the Ring of Fire.
The entire belt is under constant tension. When a quake strikes, that tension is temporarily relieved, but much like hunger, it soon starts to build again. Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand takes the cake for the most active volcano in the ring, with minor eruptions every year and major eruptions every 50 years.
In late November 2013, volcanic eruptions in the western edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire gave rise to a tiny island. The islet sits 1000 kilometres south of Tokyo, in waters considered part of Japanese territory.
The Ring of Fire is also home to several hot spots. Hot spots are areas deep within the Earth’s mantle from which heat rises. The heat facilitates the melting of rock in the upper portion of the mantle, which is also brittle in nature. The melted rock or magma often pushes out through the cracks formed and forms volcanoes. Hot spots are not associated with the interaction or movement of Earth’s tectonic plates. For this reason, many geologists do not consider hot spot volcanoes as part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
The Pacific Plate, which drives most of the tectonic activity, is reportedly cooling down. Scientists have discovered that the younger parts of the plate, which are about 2 million years old, are cooling down and contracting at a faster rate than the older parts which are about 100 million years old. The younger parts of the plate can be found in the northern and western parts of the Pacific plate and it is the most active part of the ring of Fire.
As a place that produces most of the world's volcanic activity and earthquakes, the Ring of Fire is a fascinating place. Understanding more about the Ring of Fire and being able to accurately predict volcanic eruptions and earthquakes may help eventually save millions of lives. Till then, it is a very cool (yes, ironical pun intended) phenomenon to read about, and for the daredevils out there, explore.