What is the "Ring of Fire"?

Most earthquakes and volcanic eruptions do not strike randomly but occur in specific areas, such as along plate boundaries. One such area is the circum-Pacific Ring of Fire, where the Pacific Plate meets many surrounding tectonic plates. The Ring of Fire is the most seismically and volcanically active zone in the world.

Learn more: U.S. Volcanoes and Current Activity Alerts

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Which volcanic eruptions were the deadliest?

Deadliest Volcanic Eruptions Since 1500 A.D. Eruption Year Casualties Major Cause Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia 1985 25,000 1,3 Mudflows 3 Mont Pelée, Martinique 1902 30,000 1 (29,025) 2 Pyroclastic flows 2 Krakatau, Indonesia 1883 36,000 1 (36,417) 2 Tsunami 2 Tambora, Indonesia 1815 92,000 1,2 Starvation 2 Unzendake, Japan 1792 15,000 1 (14,030) 2...

What was the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century?

The world's largest eruption of the 20th century occurred in 1912 at Novarupta on the Alaska Peninsula. An estimated 15 cubic kilometers of magma was explosively erupted during 60 hours beginning on June 6th. This volume is equivalent to 230 years of eruption at Kilauea (Hawaii) or about 30 times the volume erupted by Mount St. Helens (Washington...

Where does the United States rank in the number of volcanoes?

The United States ranks third, behind Indonesia and Japan, in the number of historically active volcanoes (that is, those for which we have written accounts of eruptions). In addition, about 10 percent of the more than 1,500 volcanoes that have erupted in the past 10,000 years are located in the United States. Most of these volcanoes are found in...

Which volcanoes in the conterminous United States have erupted since the Nation was founded?

Excluding steam eruptions, these volcanoes have shown activity: Mount St. Helens, Washington - Eruptions and/or lava dome growth occurred in the late 1700s, 1800-1857, 1980-1986, and 2004-2007. Lassen Peak, California - A series of steam blasts began on May 30, 1914. An eruption occurred 12 months later on May 21, 1915. Minor activity continued...

How much of the Earth is volcanic?

More than 80 percent of the Earth's surface--above and below sea level--is of volcanic origin. Gaseous emissions from volcanic vents over hundreds of millions of years formed the Earth's earliest oceans and atmosphere, which supplied the ingredients vital to evolve and sustain life. Over geologic eons, countless volcanic eruptions have produced...

Can an eruption at one volcano trigger an eruption at another nearby volcano?

There are a few historic examples of simultaneous eruptions from volcanoes or vents located within about 10 km of each other, but it's very difficult to determine whether one eruption caused the other. To the extent that these erupting volcanoes or vents have common or overlapping magma reservoirs and hydrothermal systems, magma rising to erupt...

How many active volcanoes are there on Earth?

There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide, aside from the continuous belts of volcanoes on the ocean floor at spreading centers like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge . About 500 of those 1,500 volcanoes have erupted in historical time. Many of those are located along the Pacific Rim in what is known as the " Ring of Fire ." In the United...
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Date published: June 21, 2017

USGS publishes a new blueprint that can help make subduction zone areas more resilient

Subduction zone events pose significant threats to lives, property, economic vitality, cultural and natural resources and quality of life. The tremendous magnitudes of these events are unique to subduction zones, and they can have cascading consequences that reverberate around the globe.

Date published: September 12, 2016


It’s not flirting for submarines, but this week’s EarthWord does feature the ocean...

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Image shows a diagram of a subduction zone
July 18, 2016

Subduction Fault Zone Diagram

A figure showing the oceanic plate sliding beneath the continental plate. Credit: USGS

Redoubt Volcano viewed from the northwest following the April 4, 2009 eruption (Event 19). Steam rises from the summit crater, p
April 4, 2009

Redoubt Volcano viewed from the northwest following the April 4, 2009 eruption

Redoubt Volcano viewed from the northwest following the April 4, 2009 eruption (Event 19). Steam rises from the summit crater, pyroclastic flow and surge deposits drape the flanks, and lahar deposits cover the Drift River Valley. 

February 24, 2008

What is the "Ring of Fire"?

Listen to hear the answer.

A gas plume arising from Augustine Volcano during it's eruptive phase 2005-06.
January 24, 2006

A gas plume arising from Augustine Volcano during it's eruptive phase 2005-06.

A gas plume arising from Augustine Volcano during it's eruptive phase 2005-06. This photo was taken during  a FLIR/maintenance flight on January 24, 2006.

Animated image of lava floor collapsing
November 30, 2000

Lava Floor

This is an animated GIF of the collapse of the Pu'u 'O 'o Crater Floor on March 5, 2011.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Cartoon shows a cross-section of the earth and how to tectonic plates might move under each other to create continental crust.

Oceanic subduction zone

General diagram of an oceanic subduction zone. Sumatra and the Andaman Islands are part of an island arc.
this figure is taken from the online edition of This Dynamic Earth

Pacific Plate boundaries and relative motion

Pacific Plate boundaries and relative motion

Map of the Pacific Plate boundaries and relative motion, from This Dynamic Planet: World Map of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Impact Craters, and Plate Tectonics. Third Edition (Published 2006)

By Tom Simkin,1 Robert I. Tilling,2 Peter R. Vogt3,1 Stephen H. Kirby,2 Paul Kimberly,1 and David B.