Environment

What Is The Ring Of Fire?

The Pacific Rim is surrounded by a circum-Pacific belt of hundreds of volcanoes, accounting for three-fourths of those found globally.

Location and Geology

The Pacific Rim is surrounded by a circum-Pacific belt of hundreds of volcanoes. These volcanoes form a horseshoe shape Ring of Fire. This ring of 452 volcanoes is located in the Pacific Ocean basin offshore of the continents of Australia, Asia, North America, and South America. It begins around the Tonga Trench, and forms a 25,000 mile ring northwards to the Aleutian Trench, and curves southward to the Peru-Chile Trench, opposite of the Tonga Trench. Tectonic plates that form boundaries remain active from hundreds of million years ago, and these push against each other creating earthquakes and magma erupts from underwater to start forming volcanoes and mountains that thrust upwards slowly above sea level.

Historically Large Eruptions

There were several enormous volcanic eruptions in the past along the Ring of Fire. One of the largest eruptions occurred on August 26th-27th, 1883 in the volcanic island of Krakatoa in Indonesia, taking 40,000 lives as a result of the tsunami created by the eruption. On May 18th, 1980, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake triggered the Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington state taking 57 lives but its destructive path left 250 homes in ruins, 185 miles of highway destroyed, 15 miles of railroad and 47 bridges unusable. Another destructive volcanic eruption happened in the Philippines, when Mount Pinatubo erupted on June 9th, 1991. The result was more than 700 lives taken and 200,000 buildings destroyed.

Notable Active Volcanoes

The Ring of Fire has about 452 volcanoes, some active and some dormant, while others are already extinct. Mount Popocatepetl, in close proximity to Mexico City, is clearly volatile, with a record of 15 eruptions since 1519. Next is Mount St. Helens, which is also very active, and near Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. Mount Fuji in Japan has recently shown an agitated state, and the recent string of earthquakes there might just encourage it to erupt. In New Zealand, Mount Ruapehu has been showing minor eruptions lately as often as every year, while records show that it erupts significantly about once every 50 years. In the frozen continent of Antarctica, just below the Tonga Trench is another hot-spot volcano that contains a lava lake. There, Mount Erebus, although not in the Ring of Fire, has an active lava lake in its crater.

Ecological Role

Volcanic eruptions kill both people and livestock, as well as destroy properties on a mass scale, but there is another side to the destructive power of volcanoes. Volcanic ash offers much needed nutrients to the surrounding areas that makes the soil fertile. The eruptions also cause the temperature inside the earth's crust to cool down moderating the surface temperature by venting it during non-eruptions. New islands also are upwelled in the oceans, as exemplified by the birth of Surtsey Island in the Pacific Ocean on November 30th, 1963 off of the southern coast of Iceland. Products from volcanic eruptions come in the form of basalt and diabese used in building materials. Some soaps and utility cleaners also use the pumice and ash collected from around the eruption areas.

Mitigating Volcanic Threats Around the Ring

The Ring of Fire has for hundreds of thousands of years been an active zone for volcanoes. Disaster planning should always be present even before volcano eruption threats are felt or seen. Drills and area evacuation should at all times be in the minds of authorities in the region. Tsunamis often occur after earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Though coming from the ocean, these do not limit their ranges to immediately around the eruption area. Proper land use around volcanoes should mitigate the impact of sudden volcanic eruptions. Risk and hazard maps should also be defined, and their proper interpretations adhered to. Drills should also be implemented to orient people in the case of hazards that are more likely to be seen occurring after an eruption.

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