Pacific Ring of Fire

We explain what the Pacific Ring of Fire is, its location and other characteristics. In addition, we tell you how it was formed.

The Popocatépetl volcano is part of the Pacific ring of fire.
Volcanoes abound in the Ring of Fire and most earthquakes have their epicenter.

What is the Pacific Ring of Fire?

The Pacific Ring of Fire, also known as the Pacific Ring of Fire or the Circumpacific Belt, It is a large seismic region located around the Pacific Ocean, considered the most extensive and active on the entire planet.. Its name is due to the fact that it is a region in which volcanoes abound and where the vast majority of the world’s earthquakes have their epicenter.

The ring of fire It extends over 40,000 kilometers. It covers a horseshoe-shaped route along the western coasts and the Andean region of South America, almost all of Central America, the western coasts of North America, the eastern coasts of part of Asia and an extensive chain of Pacific islands, including Japan, the Philippines, the Kuril Islands and the Aleutian Islands.

The important seismic activity of this region is due to the fact that The ocean floor of the Pacific rests on different tectonic plates in continuous movement and subduction, that is, friction and sinking of some beneath others. All that tension and energy accumulated in the region is released sporadically in the form of earthquakes or volcanoes, which is why tsunamis and tidal waves also frequently occur.

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Where is the Pacific Ring of Fire located?

The Ring of Fire runs along the west coast of America.  the east coast of Asia and Oceania.
The Pacific Ring of Fire crosses the territory of 29 countries.

The Pacific Ring of Fire It is located in the border region between the enormous Pacific tectonic plate and the other boundary platessuch as those of North America, the Philippines, Cocos, Nazca and Juan de Fuca.

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In its course, the belt partially or totally crosses the territories of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, Taiwan, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, Brunei, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tuvalu, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands.

Origin and formation of the Pacific Ring of Fire

The origin of the Pacific Ring of Fire has directly to do with plate tectonics. That is, with the displacement and collision of fragments of the Earth’s crust in the lithosphere, as a consequence of internal processes of the planet.

This means that the regions of the belt have different origins, from the meeting of two or more different plates. For example:

  • The eastern section of the belt is the result of the collision of the Nazca and Cocos plates against the South American plate., which produces the subduction (sinking) of the first two. In turn, the Cocos plate impacts the Caribbean plate and sinks into Central America.
  • The northern region of the belt is the result of the collision between the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plates with the North American plate., which causes the sinking of the first two. Likewise, the Pacific plate, in its movement towards the northwest, submerges near the Aleutian Islands.
  • The western region of the belt is the result of the subduction of the Pacific plate in front of the Philippine and North American plates. (which extends to the coasts of Russia), at the height of the Kamchatka peninsula.
  • The southern region of the belt is the most complex, and is the result of the collision of the Pacific plate and a small series of smaller plates. off the Mariana Islands, the Philippines, Bouganville, Tonga and New Zealand.

Features of the Pacific Ring of Fire

The eruption of Mount St. Helens burned the forests around it.
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was the most catastrophic in the United States.

In general terms, the Pacific Ring of Fire is characterized by the following:

  • It is shaped like a horseshoe and extends over 40,000 kilometers approximately. On this route it connects the territory of 29 countries.
  • It is the region with the highest seismic activity on the planet, meeting point of nine different tectonic plates. 90% of the planet’s earthquakes take place in the belt.
  • There are 452 volcanoes in the belt, a figure equivalent to 75% of the volcanoes in the world.. These include most of the Earth’s supervolcanoes, responsible in the past for mass extinction events of species.
  • There are numerous marine trenches along the belt.such as those of Puysegur, Bougainville, Java, the Marianas, the Philippines, Japan, the Aleutians, the South Sandwich, the Mesoamerican trench and the Peruvian-Chilean trench.
  • The most recent major earthquakes in the belt were those in Chile (2010) and Japan (2011)..
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Active volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire

Mount Fuji is surrounded by cherry blossoms at sunset.
Mount Fuji has been considered a sacred place since ancient times.

The main active volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire are:

  • He Mount Fuji in Japan. It is the highest mountain in Japan, with an elevation of 4 kilometers. It has been considered a sacred place since ancient times, which is why it has an important presence in Japanese art. Its last recorded eruption was in 1707 and is known as the “great eruption of Hoei.”
  • Mount Saint Helens in the United States. It is located in the state of Washington and is a volcano 2552 meters high above sea level. It is part of the Cascade mountain range and was known by the native peoples of the region as Louwala-Clough, “smoking mountain.” Its last recorded eruption was in 1980 and was the deadliest and most catastrophic in the history of the United States.
  • The Yellowstone supervolcano in the United States. Also known as the Yellowstone Caldera, it is in the national park of the same name, between the states of Wyoming and Idaho. Although its last eruption took place 64,000 years ago (known as the Lava Creek eruption), it is considered an area of ​​significant seismic and volcanic risk.
  • Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico. It is located between the states of Morelos, Puebla and the State of Mexico, 72 km from the country’s capital. It is an active volcano 5,400 meters high, that is, the second highest in Mexico. Its volcanic activity is continuous and therefore it is considered one of the most dangerous on the planet. Its last recorded eruption was in 2020, but it was only limited to 26 cases of gas and ash exhalations.
  • Mount Mayon in the Philippines. It is an active volcano 2421 meters above sea level, located in the city of Legazpi, 330 km from the capital city. It is the most active volcano in the country, with a history of more than 30 major eruptions throughout history. The worst occurred in 1814 and caused the city of Cagsawa to disappear under the lava. However, its last recorded eruption took place in 2013.
  • Koryaksky volcano in Russia. Also called Koriaka, Koriatzkaia or Streloschnaja, it is located on the Kamchatka peninsula, east of Russian territory. It has a height of 3,456 meters and there are only three known eruptions since 1890. The most powerful occurred from December 1956 to June 1957.
  • Tambora volcano in Indonesia. It is located on the island of Sumbawa, one of the smaller Sunda Islands in the south-central Malay Archipelago. It is a 2850 meter high volcano, whose last and largest eruption was in 1815. It was a catastrophic eruption that caused the death of at least 71,000 people and altered the global climate producing a “volcanic winter” the following year.
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  • “What is the Pacific Ring of Fire and how does it work?” on CNN in Spanish.
  • “Ring of Fire” en National Geographic.
  • “Ring of Fire (seismic belt)” en The Encyclopaedia Britannica.