Action On the Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire, the 25,000 mile (40,000km) series of ocean trenches, volcanic arcs, and colliding tectonic plates fringing the Pacific Rim, from New Zealand to Chile, has 75% of the world’s active volcanoes, and produces 90% of the world’s earthquakes.

The first two months of 2016 have seen moderate activity on the Ring of Fire. Volcanoes in Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Indonesia continue to erupt at low to moderate levels. The Sinabung Volcano on Sumatra keeps extruding lava, with intermittent explosions that belch ash plumes up to 14,000 ft. (4,300m).

Two major earthquakes shook different parts of the Pacific Rim during this period. A Magnitude 7.1 quake hit Southeastern Alaska at 1:30 a.m. on January 24. The epicenter was 160 mi (260km) southwest of Anchorage at a depth of more than 40 miles. The shaking was strong enough to knock out power to 10,000, start gas leaks and fires, and cause moderate damage to roads and structures near the epicenter. The 1 fatality was attributed to a heart attack. If the quake had struck at a shallower depth, the jolt would have been stronger and the damage greater. The Aleutian Arc, where the Pacific Plate slides under the North American Plate, is a highly active seismic area. The second strongest earthquake on record, the Magnitude 9.3 Great Alaska Earthquake, struck in the same area on March 27, 1964.

On February 6, 2016, at 3:27 a.m., the island of Taiwan was hit by a Magnitude 6.4 earthquake. Though not as high a magnitude as the January 24 Alaska quake, the depth at 14mi (23km) was much shallower, and the shaking much more intense. The quake was ranked Intensity VII — Very Strong– on the Mercali Intensity Scale. Also, the epicenter was close to a high-density population center, and therefore much more destructive. Most of the 117 fatalities occurred when an apartment building collapsed and trapped the people living inside. Whether building code violations were involved is under investigation.

Tectonic plates constantly collide and build fault line stress. Volcano eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis can and will strike anytime, anywhere along the always active Pacific Ring of Fire.