Alaska’s Profound Place In The Earth’s “Ring of Fire”
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
When you think about what the “Ring of Fire” is, what comes to mind? I’ll be the first to admit that, shamelessly, the Johnny Cash song Ring of Fire is the first thing that I thought of. Digging deeper into the subject, the Ring of Fire (also known as the Circum-Pacific Belt) is actually a very furious and fascinating path along the Pacific Ocean that spans across 15 of the world’s countries. These countries include the USA, Indonesia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Russia, Chile, Peru, and the Philippines.
This 24,900-mile path along the Ring of Fire is characterized by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. We were shocked to learn that 75% of Planet Earth’s volcanoes (over 450 total), are located along the Ring of Fire path. On top of that, 90% of the Earth’s earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire, of which happen to be the most violent and destructive seismic events ever recorded in history.
So why, and how come? The jaw-dropping amount of earthquakes and volcano eruptions are caused directly by the amount of movement in the tectonic plates of the Earth’s surface. Throughout a large portion of the Ring of Fire, these tectonic plates actually overlap at connecting boundaries known as “subduction zones.” This area has an vast amount of magma near the surface of the Earth, thus volcanic activity is rather high. However, on the section of Planet Earth between the Pacific and North American plates there is a portion of the Ring of Fire known as the “transform boundary” where tectonic plates move sideways next to one another. In this area, earthquakes are much more common as the Earth’s crust has a high amount of tension that builds up and eventually has to be released.
Which brings us to our home, Alaska, and it’s direct placement within the ferocious Ring of Fire. With over 130 volcanoes and volcanic fields throughout the Last Frontier, it didn’t shock us too much to hear that a portion of Alaska lies within the Ring of Fire.
The entire chain of Aleutian Islands in the Alaska Maritime Refuge lies on the northern arc of the Ring of Fire. The friction that these tectonic plates create cause earthquakes, tidal waves, and of course volcanic eruptions – of which is directly what is responsible for forming the entire Aleutian Island chain.
One of the hottest times ever on the Ring of Fire was back in the summer of 2008. Three volcanoes in the Alaska Maritime Refuge on the Aleutian Island chain, all erupted within several weeks of one another. These volcanoes were Mt. Cleveland, Okmok Cladera, and Kasatochi. Reports from the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service say that the eruption of Kasatochi sent “biologists fleeing for their lives and buried the refuge cabin, seabird cliffs, and the sea lion rookery.” Before that, Kasatochi had no history of erupting and the Alaska Maritime Refuge has been studying seabirds surrounding the volcano for over 13 years prior to 2008.
The most recent time that Alaska’s Ring of Fire saw some heavy-hitting action was back in 2017. The undersea volcano of Bogoslof had an eruption that doubled the entire size of the island (Bogoslof Island) and also sent a mile-high explosion of ash and smoke into the atmosphere. This caused tremendous disruptions in air travel all over Alaska for multiple weeks.
Have you lived through a memorable and/or terrifying earthquake or volcano in Alaska that left you totally shook? We’d love to hear all about your personal experiences! For another good read on the same topic of the Ring of Fire, check out 10 of today’s most active Alaska volcanoes that’ll truly blow your mind.
Looking for another great read? If you love Alaska’s idyllic charm, check out these 11 charming Alaska small towns that’ll leave you wanting more. Buckle up and prepare to enjoy: Road-Trippin’ Alaska; Your perfect way to escape the crowds in 2020. Also, for all of your adventurers that like an off the beaten path experience, take a look at America’s least-visited National Park located right here in Alaska.