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The Pacific Ocean: Facts About the Ring of Fire

Science has always fascinated me. This includes not only the ecological sciences, which I studied in school, but other endeavors, as well.

Mt. Gallunggung in Java is considered to be one of the most active and potentially deadliest volcanoes on the planet.

Mt. Gallunggung in Java is considered to be one of the most active and potentially deadliest volcanoes on the planet.

A Ring of Fire

The term Ring of Fire has been around much longer than our understanding of Pacific geology and plate tectonics. Basically, the Ring of Fire includes all nations of South America, North America, Asia and Oceania, with a sizable window on the Pacific Ocean.

The 25,000-mile ring begins in Chile and runs north to Alaska and the USA before cutting across the Pacific to Russia and Japan, which just happens to be one of the most seismic active nations on the planet. Finally, the ring cuts across the Philippines and the South Pacific before ending up in New Zealand.

The Ring of Fire occurs along the edge of the Pacific Ocean

The Ring of Fire occurs along the edge of the Pacific Ocean

A Large Number of Volcanoes and Earthquakes

According to scientists, 75% of the world's volcanoes can be found in the Ring of Fire. This amounts to 452 volcanoes, both dormant and active. Furthermore, scientists and researchers have found that around 90 percent of the planet's earthquakes can be found along the Ring of Fire, where the gigantic Pacific tectonic plate comes into contact with many smaller tectonic plates located under land masses or the oceans.

Underwater Volcanoes

Most active volcanoes within the Ring of Fire can be found underwater. Under normal circumstances, this is not a situation of great concern, but keep in mind that the most explosive volcanoes are the ones that are able to mix sea water with air and magma like the original Krakatoa did back in the 1880s.

Over the Years

During the past 11,700 years, 22 of the 25 largest volcanic eruptions have occurred around the Ring of Fire. That's quite an impressive record, considering that many other Caribbean and Mediterranean regions are home to some very powerful volcanoes.

In reality, the earth has many tectonic plates, both large and small.

In reality, the earth has many tectonic plates, both large and small.

Pacific Plate Tectonics

Much of the volcanic and seismic activity on earth can be contributed to plate tectonics, a relatively new scientific concept that was brought forth in the 60s. Basically, this scientific theory states that the earth's surface consists of a solid surface, called the lithosphere. This layer of land actually floats atop the mantle core, which is believed to be a semi-solid. Furthermore, the lithosphere is not continuously solid, but consists of many plates, both large and small. When these plates push up against each other, the resulting friction may result in earthquakes and volcanoes.

By chance, the Pacific plate is one of the largest and most active plates on the planet..Since it is located under a large ocean, it is referred to as an oceanic plate. On the other hand plates situated under land masses are called continental plates. In general, oceanic plates are denser, but not as deep as continental plates.

It is now believed that the colorful skies in Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream, are a real-life depiction of fallout from Krakatoa, the monster Pacific volcano that erupted in 1883.

It is now believed that the colorful skies in Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream, are a real-life depiction of fallout from Krakatoa, the monster Pacific volcano that erupted in 1883.


Krakatoa is an ominous name that is forever etched into the human consciousness. Today, Krakatoa, is a small ring of islands, mere remnants of a giant volcano that blew its top back in 1883. So large was the eruption that the island almost disappeared into the sea and ash from the explosion effected global weather for several years.

Strangely enough, Edvard Munch's iconic painting, "The Scream" is now viewed by a few scientists and art historians, as a realistic rendering of one of the many spectacular sunsets that occurred in the months and years following the enormous Indonesian eruption.

Beginning in 2009 Anak Krakatua (son of Krakatau) began erupting again

Beginning in 2009 Anak Krakatua (son of Krakatau) began erupting again

Krakatoa Today

The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was so strong that it blew away all 2,600 feet of mountain, leaving a new volcanic peak that was located some 820 feet below sea level. A few remnants of the larger island remained, forming a ring of islands, where once there had been just one solid piece of land.

This new mountain has been named Anak Krakatoa (son of Krakatoa). Since the late 1800s, the undersea peak has been growing and as of 1927. it is no longer located under the sea. Today, the Son of Krakatoa,rises over a thousand feet above the Indian Ocean and often sends up plumes of ash and occasionally fire. Within the last year, over 40,000 local villagers have been moved to safety, but if this new volcano should erupt, most scientists.seriously doubt that it would be as spectacular and destructive as the one in 1883. Nonetheless, Anak Krakatoa is always being closely watched.

Most Active and Dangerous Volcanoes Today

If you are interested (or concerned) as to which volcanoes are the most dangerous today, first of all, you must distinguish between most active and most dangerous. For instance, Mt. Ranier is occasionally listed as one of the most potentially dangerous volcanoes, but never as one of the most active. The opinion here is that if Ranier should blow its top, the blast could be quite deadly because of a large urban population living nearby.

However, within these lists, one thing is constant. The vast majority, usually 7 or 8 out of 10 of the world's most active volcanoes can be found within the Ring of Fire. Some of the leading contenders are the Merapi volcano in Indonesia, Sakurajima in southern Japan, Anak Krakatoa in Indonesia, Popocatepeti in Mexico and Changbaishan on the China-North Korea border. Incidentally, not all the most dangerous volcanoes are to be found around the Pacific Rim, for Italy, Iceland and the Congo are also home to some potentially destructive eruptions.

Pu'u 'O'o, a Volcanic cone on Kilauea, Hawaii.

Pu'u 'O'o, a Volcanic cone on Kilauea, Hawaii.

Hawaii, Ring of Fire or Geothermal Hotspot?

Recent increased volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii has placed the 50th state squarely in the international news circuit. Since the Hawaiian Islands sit in the middle of the "Ring of Fire", they are often included in stories about this unique geological region, even though recent scientific opinion suggests that there are different geological forces at work in the islands.

In 1963, Canadian geophysicist, John Tuzo Wilson, put forth an interesting scientific theory that at the time was quite controversial among geologists. According to Wilson, volcanic events on Hawaii are due to a very active geothermal hot spot that sits underneath the islands. This contrasts with the movement of tectonic plates, which are currently credited with making the Pacific Rim, so geologically active.

Sources 8 Facts About the Ring of Fire What Is Lithosphere? Krakatau Volcano Astronomical Sleuths Link Krakatoa to Edvard Munch's Painting The Scream Asia's Three Most Dangerous Volcanoes Plate Tectonics

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What does the Ring of Fire do?

Answer: The Ring of Fire doesn't really do anything. It is a descriptive term used to describe a geological place, where an unusually large number of volcanoes can be found. This geological place can roughly be described as where the Pacific Ocean meets up against large continental land masses, such as South or Central America.

One should also note that the Pacific Ocean does not cause volcanoes. Rather, it is the large tectonic plates found far below the earth's surface that are the root cause behind the large number of active volcanoes.

Question: How long is the Ring of Fire?

Answer: The Ring of Fire runs from the southern tip of South America north to the Aleutian Islands down the South again along the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean all the way to New Zealand. All total, I believe the distance is more than 20,000 miles.

Question: How many volcanoes are in the ring of fire?

Answer: This is a difficult question to answer because the area covered is so vast and then it is furthermore complicated because there are three types of volcanoes, active dormant and extinct. For instance, if you just want to look at active volcanoes, you might find that there are few volcanoes that may be borderline between active and dormant. Furthermore, in some of the more remote places, there could exist a few volcanoes that have yet to be discovered. However, keeping all of this in mind, Wikipedia states that there are 452 active volcanoes in the Ring of Fire. Keep in mind that this number is not static, but always in a state of flux. Here's the link for the 452 number.

© 2018 Harry Nielsen


mellissa on May 14, 2020:

hi I love volcanoes

dviana morg on October 03, 2019:

it is good but it not that good im going to copy and paste

your momma on May 22, 2019:

thank you for this article

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on August 09, 2018:

I have always been interested in volcanoes, so back in February I wrote about the "Ring of Fire". In May, Kilauea blew up and since then, volcanoes and the Ring of Fire have been much in the news. As a result, you should have no problem finding articles and stories about these topics. For a more in depth look about Pacific volcanoes, you might want to check out Simon Winchester's fine book called Krakatoa.

Vincent W Price on August 08, 2018:

I have been very interested in this subject,& I would like to know more about you and what you want to do or if I can find a way I can get more information about this

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on June 25, 2018:

Thanks, Kilauea has put Hawaiian volcanoes and the Ring of Fire in the front of the news, even though, technically speaking, Hawaii is not part of the Ring of Fire. Unfortunately, it does not look like volcanic activity on the Big Island is going away anytime soon, so I guess we can expect to hear more news stories about volcanoes.

thepersonworking on June 25, 2018:

this helps people learn about the ring of fire. cool

Tamarajo on May 19, 2018:

Very interesting and well presented. The Krakatoa section was fascinating. I learned something new today.

Kenna McHugh from Northern California on May 17, 2018:

Harry, Great information about the Ring of Fire is helpful in understanding how volcanoes function.

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on May 17, 2018:

You mean you didn't hear about that? (now thanks to the fluidity of the web, the Merapi volcano is back on the island of Java)

Laughing out loud on May 17, 2018:

Merapi volcano in the Philippines? Seriously? Who moved it there? Superman?

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on February 24, 2018:

Like Jimmy Buffett once said, you don't know where you might land once the volcano blows.

CaribTales on February 20, 2018:

Thank you for this science lesson--first about the Ring of Fire. However, I do know of some volcanoes in the Caribbean. Lord, please let them sleep.