THE PACIFIC’S FIERY RING

Deep within the Earth, rocky plates compress and pull apart, triggering huge quakes and eruptions—and threatening millions.

by manuel canales

and matthew W. chwastyk

Within the rocky basin of the Pacific, volcanoes and earthquakes have been causing death and destruction for millennia. The tectonic cycle unleashes enormous energy here, in seismic and volcanic events that change the face of the globe. Today, with booming growth in Asia and parts of the Americas, more people live close to calamity than ever before. As Earth’s population swells toward eight billion, the threats from this Ring of Fire will compound.

jakarta

10,639,000 people

On just one island in

Indonesia—Java, shown here—41 active volcanoes threaten some 151 million people.

Direction of view

Jakarta

Semarang

Madura

Java

Surabaya

Volcano

WHERE PLATES COLLIDE

The Ring of Fire is a 25,000-mile-long region where several oceanic plates of Earth’s rocky crust are slipping beneath Asia and the Americas as the continents shift toward one another. The seismic and volcanic activity generated has the potential to disrupt the lives of hundreds of millions of people in some 40 countries.

Pacific

Ocean

Java

WHY PLATES COLLIDE

Tectonic plates under the Pacific move faster than any others on Earth, driven by a force called slab pull. The larger the slab of lithosphere sinking at a subduction zone, the faster the plate moves, and the stronger the seismic activity. Plates meet. Cold, dense oceanic lithosphere sinks below an adjacent, lighter plate, plunging into the hot asthenosphere.

THE PACIFIC’S FIERY RING

Deep within the Earth, rocky plates compress and pull apart,

triggering huge quakes and eruptions—and threatening millions.

by manuel canales and matthew W. chwastyk

Within the rocky basin of the Pacific, volcanoes and earthquakes have been causing death and

destruction for millennia. The tectonic cycle unleashes enormous energy here, in seismic and

volcanic events that change the face of the globe. Today, with booming growth in Asia and parts

of the Americas, more people live close to calamity than ever before. As Earth’s population swells

toward eight billion, the threats from this Ring of Fire will compound.

Semeru

Surabaya

2,922,000 people

Welirang

Semeru

Merapi

Semarang

1,833,000 people

Merbabu

Ungaran

Merapi

Slamet

Purwokerto

Cirebon

317,000 people

Cereme

Indramayu

112,000 people

Tampomas

Bandung

2,558,000 people

Tangkubanperahu

Gede

Bekasi

3,277,000 people

Salak

Bogor

1,137,000 people

Depok

2,615,000 people

jakarta

10,639,000 people

On just one island in

Indonesia—Java, shown here—41 active volcanoes threaten some 151 million people.

Direction of view

Semarang

Jakarta

Madura

Java

Surabaya

Volcano

WHERE PLATES COLLIDE

The Ring of Fire is a 25,000-mile-long region where several oceanic plates of Earth’s rocky crust are slipping beneath Asia and the Americas as the continents shift toward one another. The seismic and volcanic activity generated has the potential to disrupt the lives of hundreds of millions of people in some 40 countries.

Pacific

Ocean

Java

WHY PLATES COLLIDE

Tectonic plates under the Pacific move faster than any others on Earth, driven by a force called slab pull. The larger the slab of lithosphere sinking at a subduction zone, the faster the plate moves, and the stronger the seismic activity. Plates meet. Cold, dense oceanic lithosphere sinks below an adjacent, lighter plate, plunging into the hot asthenosphere.

STRETCHING THE RING

Distorting Earth’s sphere allows us to

see the Ring of Fire as a line reaching from New Zealand to the tip of South America.

STRETCHING THE RING

Distorting Earth’s sphere allows us to see the Ring of Fire as a line reaching from New Zealand to the tip of South America.

WHERE THE TITANS LOOM

The volcanoes shown are among those most likely to threaten humans. (In March 2019, an eruption of Popocatépetl raised the alert level to one below mandatory evacuation.) The latest eruption and the number of people living within 60 miles are noted. Each mountain is scaled to show prominence—how far it rises above its immediate surroundings.

Population density

Lower

Higher

Volcanic Features

Volcano

Volcano most threatening to population centers

Earthquake intensity

(Moment magnitude)

9 and over

8–8.9

Pacific Ocean

Area with greater chance of unleashing strong earthquakes

Tectonic plate

boundary

AMERICAN

SAMOA

(U.S.)

Pacific

PLATE

Wellington

AMERICAN

SAMOA

(U.S.)

Tonga

New

Zealand

Apia

Nuku‘alofa

SAMOA

Wellington

Fiji

Tonga

New

Zealand

Suva

Apia

Nuku‘alofa

SAMOA

Vanuatu

Fiji

Australian

PLATE

Suva

Port-Vila

Australia

Vanuatu

Port-Vila

Australia

1. MANARO VOUI

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

THREATENED POPULATION:

73,000

Devastated parts of Aoba (Ambae) 300 years ago; island was evacuated in 2018

Port-Vila

Coral Sea

Port-Vila

Solomon

Islands

Honiara

Coral Sea

Australia

Australian PLATE

Solomon

Islands

Papua

New Guinea

Honiara

Port Moresby

Australia

Papua

New Guinea

Timor-leste

(East Timor)

New

Guinea

Port Moresby

Díli

Timor-leste

(East Timor)

New

Guinea

Pacific

PLATE

Jakarta

Díli

SINgapore

Caroline

PLATE

Guam

(U.S.)

Jakarta

Kuala

Lumpur

SINgapore

Guam

(U.S.)

Phnom

Penh

Kuala

Lumpur

Sunda

PLATE

Manila

Philippine

SEA

PLATE

Mariana

Islands

Mariana

Islands

Phnom

Penh

Manila

2. MAYON

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

THREATENED POPULATION:

4,100,000

The Philippines’ most active

volcano; 1,200 killed and several towns destroyed in 1814

Philippines

Phnom

Penh

Manila

Sunda PLATE

Philippines

Bangkok

Hong

Kong

Phnom

Penh

Manila

Taiwan

Hanoi

Philippine SEA

PLATE

Bangkok

Hong

Kong

YANGTZE

PLATE

Shanghai

Taiwan

Hanoi

INDIAN

PLATE

China

YANGTZE

PLATE

Osaka

Tokyo

Shanghai

Seoul

Pacific

PLATE

China

Osaka

Tokyo

Seoul

3. FUJI

LAST ERUPTION:

1707

THREATENED POPULATION:

25,000,000

Six eruptions (with no deaths) since 1033; a prominent icon on Tokyo’s skyline

Japan

China

Tokyo

Osaka

Seoul

Sendai

Japan

China

Pyongyang

Beijing

Tokyo

Osaka

Seoul

Vladivostok

Sapporo

Sendai

Pacific

PLATE

Pyongyang

Beijing

AMURIAN PLATE

Vladivostok

Sapporo

OHOTSK

PLATE

AMURIAN PLATE

Petropavlovsk

Kamchatskiy

OHOTSK

PLATE

Eurasian

PLATE

Petropavlovsk

Kamchatskiy

Russia

Bering

Sea

Russia

Bering

Sea

ALAska

(U.S.)

North

American

PLATE

ALAska

(U.S.)

Pacific

Ocean

Juneau

CANADA

Juneau

Vancouver

CANADA

Seattle

Portland

Vancouver

Seattle

Portland

4. RAINIER

LAST ERUPTION:

circa 1450

THREATENED POPULATION:

2,700,000

Past mudflows massive enough

to devastate newly populated areas nearby

Seattle

Portland

CANADA

San

Francisco

Seattle

Portland

CANADA

San Diego

San

Francisco

Los Angeles

North

American

PLATE

Tijuana

San Diego

UNITED

STATES

Los Angeles

Pacific

PLATE

Tijuana

Pacific

Ocean

UNITED

STATES

Mexico

Guadalajara

León

Mexico

Mexico City

Guadalajara

León

Mexico City

5. POPOCATÉPETL

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

26,500,000

THREATENED POPULATION:

Has threatened nearby Mexico City with repeated eruptions

since 1994

UNITED STATES

Mexico City

Gulf of

Mexico

UNITED STATES

Mexico

Mexico City

Gulf of

Mexico

Belmopan

Pacific

PLATE

Guatemala City

Mexico

San Salvador

Tegucigalpa

Cocos

PLATE

Belmopan

Guatemala City

San Salvador

Tegucigalpa

CARIBBEAN PLATE

6. FUEGO

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

THREATENED POPULATION:

7,700,000

Pyroclastic flows killed more than a hundred people in 2018

Belmopan

Guatemala City

San Salvador

Tegucigalpa

Belmopan

Managua

Guatemala City

San José

San Salvador

Tegucigalpa

Panama City

Managua

Medellín

San José

Caribbean PLATE

Bogotá

Cali

Cocos

PLATE

Panama City

Quito

Guayaquil

Medellín

Cali

Bogotá

NaZca

Plate

Quito

South

American

PLATE

Guayaquil

Lima

Cusco

Lima

La Paz

Sucre

Cusco

La Paz

Pacific

Ocean

Sucre

Santiago

Santiago

Antarctic

Plate

Tierra del

Fuego

MANUEL CANALES, MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, DIANA MARQUES AND

JOHN KAPPLER, NGM STAFF;

SEAN MCNAUGHTON.

VOLCANO ART: TOMÁŠ MÜLLER.

MAP PROJECTION AND RENDERING:

CHARLES PREPPERNAU.

SOURCES: ADAM SOULE, WOODS HOLE

OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION;

ERIK KLEMETTI, DENISON UNIVERSITY;

JANINE KRIPPNER, SMITHSONIAN

INSTITUTION’S GLOBAL VOLCANISM

PROGRAM; W.P. SCHELLART, VRIJE UNIVERSITEIT AMSTERDAM; GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA; UN OFFICE FOR DISASTER RISK REDUCTION; USGS.

WHERE THE TITANS LOOM

The volcanoes shown are among those most likely to threaten humans. (In March 2019, an eruption of Popocatépetl raised the alert level to one below mandatory evacuation.) The latest eruption and the number of people living within 60 miles are noted. Each mountain is scaled to show prominence—how far it rises above its immediate

surroundings.

Pacific Ocean

Population density

Earthquake intensity

(Moment magnitude)

Lower

Higher

9 and over

Area with greater

chance of unleashing

strong earthquakes

8–8.9

Volcano

Tectonic plate

boundary

Wellington

Volcano most threatening

to population centers

AMERICAN

SAMOA

(U.S.)

New

Zealand

Wellington

AMERICAN

SAMOA

(U.S.)

New

Zealand

Tonga

Apia

Tonga Plate

Nuku‘alofa

Tonga

Apia

Tonga Plate

Nuku‘alofa

Niuafo'ou

SAMOA

Niuafo'ou

Futuna

SAMOA

Fiji

Australian PLATE

Suva

Futuna

Fiji

Conway

Reef Plate

Suva

Balmoral

Reef Plate

Conway

Reef Plate

Balmoral

Reef Plate

Pacific

PLATE

New CalEdonia

(France)

Port-Vila

New CalEdonia

(France)

Port-Vila

Australia

Australia

1. MANARO VOUI

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

THREATENED POPULATION:

73,000

Devastated parts of Aoba (Ambae) 300 years ago; island was evacuated in 2018

Port-Vila

Port-Vila

Coral

Sea

Coral

Sea

Australia

Australia

Solomon

Islands

Honiara

Solomon

Islands

Honiara

LIVING WITH GIANTS

Asia’s volcanoes created fertile soil and magnificent landscapes, where millions now live within reach of possible disaster.

DANGER ZONES

Earthquakes are impossible to predict, but some plate boundaries are especially likely to generate colossal temblors.

Solomon

Sea

Papua

New Guinea

Solomon

Sea

Papua

New Guinea

Port Moresby

Port Moresby

New

Guinea

New

Guinea

Timor-leste

(East Timor)

Woodlark

Plate

Timor

Plate

Timor-leste

(East Timor)

Maoke

Plate

Woodlark

Plate

Díli

Timor

Pacific

PLATE

Timor

Plate

Banda Sea

Plate

Maoke

Plate

Díli

Banda Sea

Plate

Makassar

Makassar

Pacific

Ocean

Sulawesi

Java

Caroline

PLATE

Sulawesi

Borneo

MAlaysia

Sumatra

SINgapore

MAlaysia

Brunei

Guam

(U.S.)

Kuala

Lumpur

Davao City

SINgapore

Mindanao

Brunei

Guam

(U.S.)

Kuala

Lumpur

Davao City

Medan

Mindanao

Northern

Mariana

Islands

(U.S.)

Medan

Mariana

Plate

Sunda PLATE

Northern

Mariana

Islands

(U.S.)

Phnom

Penh

Vietnam

Phnom

Penh

CAMBODIA

Manila

Philippine SEA

PLATE

Vietnam

Luzon

CAMBODIA

Manila

Luzon

2. MAYON

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

THREATENED POPULATION:

4,100,000

The Philippines’ most active volcano; 1,200 killed and several towns destroyed in 1814

Northern

Mariana

Islands

(U.S.)

South

China

Sea

Phnom

Penh

Northern

Mariana

Islands

(U.S.)

South

China

Sea

Manila

CAMBODIA

Phnom

Penh

Vietnam

Philippines

Manila

CAMBODIA

Bangkok

Luzon

Vietnam

Philippine SEA

PLATE

Philippine Sea

Philippines

THailand

Sunda

PLATE

Bangkok

Luzon

Philippine Sea

Pacific

PLATE

THailand

Hong

Kong

Hainan

Taiwan

LAOS

Hanoi

Hong

Kong

Pacific Ocean

Taiwan

LAOS

Hanoi

INDIAN

PLATE

YANGTZE

PLATE

YANGTZE

PLATE

Shanghai

Shanghai

China

JAPAN is home to more than a hundred volcanoes, including iconic Mount Fuji and Sakurajima, one of the most active.

Yellow

Sea

Osaka

China

South

Korea

Tokyo

Yellow

Sea

Osaka

South

Korea

Seoul

Tokyo

Seoul

3. FUJI

LAST ERUPTION:

1707

THREATENED POPULATION:

25,000,000

Six eruptions (with no deaths) since 1033; a prominent icon on Tokyo’s skyline

Yellow

Sea

Osaka

Tokyo

South

Korea

Yellow

Sea

Osaka

China

Seoul

Japan

Tokyo

South

Korea

Pyongyang

Sendai

China

Seoul

Japan

Tianjin

Pyongyang

Beijing

Sea of Japan

(East Sea)

Sea of Japan

(East Sea)

North Korea

Sendai

Tianjin

Beijing

North Korea

Vladivostok

Sapporo

Pacific

PLATE

Vladivostok

Eurasian

PLATE

Sapporo

AMURIAN PLATE

Pacific

Ocean

AMURIAN PLATE

Sakhalin

OKHOTSK

PLATE

Petropavlovsk

Kamchatskiy

Petropavlovsk

Kamchatskiy

Russia

Kamchatka

Peninsula

Russia

Kamchatka

Peninsula

Bering

Sea

Bering

Sea

ALAska

(U.S.)

North

American

PLATE

ALAska

(U.S.)

Juneau

Juneau

CANADA

CANADA

Juan

de Fuca

Plate

Vancouver

Seattle

Vancouver

Portland

Seattle

Portland

4. RAINIER

LAST ERUPTION:

circa 1450

THREATENED POPULATION:

2,700,000

Past mudflows massive enough to devastate newly populated areas nearby

Seattle

CANADA

Portland

Juan de Fuca Plate

Seattle

CANADA

Portland

San

Francisco

San

Francisco

North

American

PLATE

UNITED

STATES

Pacific

PLATE

U.S. volcanoes have been less active than those in Asia, despite the massive eruptions of Novarupta (1912) and Mount St. Helens (1980).

UNITED

STATES

Los Angeles

San Diego

Los Angeles

Tijuana

Pacific

Ocean

San Diego

Tijuana

Mexico

Rivera

Plate

Mexico

Rivera

Plate

Guadalajara

León

Guadalajara

Gulf of

Mexico

León

Mexico City

Gulf of

Mexico

Cocos

PLATE

Mexico City

5. POPOCATÉPETL

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

THREATENED POPULATION:

26,500,000

Has threatened nearby Mexico City with repeated eruptions since 1994

Gulf of

Mexico

Mexico City

Gulf of

Mexico

Mexico City

Pacific

PLATE

Mexico

Mexico

Guatemala

City

Guatemala

Cocos

PLATE

Guatemala

City

Belmopan

Belize

Guatemala

El Salvador

Belmopan

Honduras

Belize

San Salvador

Tegucigalpa

El Salvador

Honduras

San Salvador

Caribbean

PLATE

Tegucigalpa

6. FUEGO

LAST ERUPTION:

2019

THREATENED POPULATION:

7,700,000

Pyroclastic flows killed more than a hundred people in 2018

Guatemala

City

Guatemala

Belmopan

Guatemala

City

Belize

Guatemala

Belmopan

El Salvador

Honduras

Belize

San Salvador

Tegucigalpa

El Salvador

Honduras

San Salvador

Nicaragua

Tegucigalpa

Managua

Cocos

PLATE

Nicaragua

Managua

Costa

Rica

San José

Costa

Rica

San José

Panama Plate

Panama City

Panama

Panama Plate

Panama City

Panama

Medellín

Medellín

Bogotá

Cali

Bogotá

Cali

Quito

Colombia

Ecuador

Quito

Guayaquil

Colombia

Ecuador

Guayaquil

Peru‘s coast shows a gap with no volcanoes where the subducting oceanic plate flattens before diving toward the Earth’s interior.

Peru

Peru

South

American

PLATE

Lima

Lima

Cusco

NaZca

Plate

Cusco

La Paz

Bolivia

La Paz

Sucre

Bolivia

Altiplano

Plate

Sucre

Santiago

Santiago

Antarctic

Plate

Scotia Plate

Tierra

del

Fuego

MANUEL CANALES, MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, DIANA MARQUES AND JOHN KAPPLER, NGM STAFF; SEAN MCNAUGHTON.

VOLCANO ART: TOMÁŠ MÜLLER. MAP PROJECTION AND RENDERING: CHARLES PREPPERNAU.

SOURCES: ADAM SOULE, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION;

ERIK KLEMETTI, DENISON UNIVERSITY; JANINE KRIPPNER, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION’S GLOBAL VOLCANISM PROGRAM;

W.P. SCHELLART, VRIJE UNIVERSITEIT AMSTERDAM; GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA; UN OFFICE FOR DISASTER RISK REDUCTION; USGS.