Written by Zulfiqar Abani
The Pacific Ring of Fire is aptly named. It is a series of volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean, and the region is prone to earthquakes. In fact, most earthquakes strike within a ring. Here are five facts.
How big is the Pacific Ring of Fire?
The Ring of Fire dominates the Pacific Ocean. It is a series of at least 450 active and calm volcanoes that make up a semicircle, or horse shoe, around the Philippine Sea Plate, the Pacific Plate, the Juan de Fuca and Cocos Plaques, and the Nazca Plate. There is a lot of seismic activity in the area.
About 90 percent of all earthquakes strike within the Ring of Fire. This means that people’s lives are under almost constant threat in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and other island states such as the Solomon Islands, Fiji and many more in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, all the way east to the west coast of North and South America. Although threat levels vary depending on local factors such as your proximity to the epicenter, be it at sea or on land – and housing criteria.
Why are so many volcanoes in the Ring of Fire?
Tectonic plates move nonstop over a layer of partially molten and partially solid rock. This is called the Earth’s mantle. When the plates collide or diverge, for example, the Earth is moving, literally. Mountains, such as the Andes in South America and the Rocky Mountains in North America, as well as volcanoes were formed by the collision of tectonic plates.
Many volcanoes have been created in the Ring of Fire through the subduction process. And most of the planet’s subduction zone also happens to be in the Ring of Fire.
What is subduction?
Subduction occurs when tectonic plates move, pushing one plate under the other. This movement of the ocean floor produces a “metallic shift,” which causes magma to melt and solidify – the formation of volcanoes. Basically, when an oceanic plate is pushed “downward” into a hotter mantle plate, it heats up, and the volatile elements mix, and this creates magma. Then the magma rises through the overlying plate and rushes to the surface.
However, if the upper plate was an ocean, it could produce a chain of volcanic islands such as the Mariana Islands. This is where we see the Earth’s deepest trenches and the deepest earthquakes.
When and where were the worst earthquakes in the Ring of Fire?
The worst earthquake of the Ring of Fire – and with it the world – struck Chile on May 22, 1960. It was a magnitude 9.5 earthquake. This is according to the US Geological Survey’s list of “largest earthquakes in the world since 1900”.
It was closely followed by the Great Alaska earthquake of 1964 (magnitude 9.2), the North Sumatra earthquake – also known as the Indian Ocean tsunami – on December 26, 2004 (magnitude 9.1), and one off the eastern coast of Honshu, Japan, on March 11, 2011 (magnitude 9.0) Degree), leading to a tsunami and ultimately a nuclear disaster in Fukushima.
Most of the earthquakes on the list are precisely located inside the Ring of Fire, with strengths ranging from 9.5 to 8.5.
Given all this activity, can we not expect earthquakes in the Ring of Fire?
No, most experts will tell you that (until now) earthquakes have been impossible to predict. Even if two occur in the ring in close sequence, it is difficult to say that one has anything to do with the other. One earthquake will not necessarily cause another.
Some seismologists are cautiously open to the idea that everything we do as humans – whether it’s testing nuclear explosives or drilling in the deep sea – has a potential impact. But there is no strong or little scientific evidence.
As for the Ring of Fire specifically, the region is under constant tension. When an earthquake strikes, this tension is temporarily relieved, but soon it begins to build up again. So all that’s left for people who live around the Ring of Fire is to be aware of the danger, perhaps to live in more inland areas, build safer, earthquake-resistant housing, and for countries everywhere to improve perimeter and ground early warning systems to help reduce risks to life.
Republished with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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