The designation of the Pacific Rim as the “Ring of Fire” was not a complement. The phrase “ring of fire” began to be used in recognition of the geographical features of the Pacific Rim, which involves a long chain of volcanoes and earthquake zones courtesy of the region’s convergence of four major tectonic plates. This unique geographic feature has made the region both particularly beautiful in terms of the development of tropical islands featuring lush vegetation and especially dangerous in terms of the frequency and scale of natural disasters that occur there – and that can be expected to continue to occur there.
The vast scale of the Pacific Ring of Fire – it stretches for 25,000 miles and directly impacts four of the world’s seven continents – and the intensity of the tectonic activity there guarantees that devastating natural disasters will confront the peoples of the Pacific Rim forever. It is home to 452 active volcanoes and most of the planet’s large earthquakes. Because the Ring of Fire encompasses so much of the Earth’s surface, and touches so many coastal regions, including California’s San Andreas Fault, hundreds of millions of people live every day with the constant threat of another major earthquake or tsunami destroying their cities, towns and villages. There was no more visible example of this threat than the massive tsunami that struck Asia on December 26, 2004, killing around 150,000 people and destroying millions of homes.
In addition to the already established threat of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes – the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines left over 100,000 people homeless and altered the region’s temperature for years – rising sea levels threatens to adversely affect millions of people living in coastal regions along the Pacific Rim. How much the sea levels will rise is a matter of a great deal of scientific conjecture, but some increase is almost certain. How the peoples of the region prepare and adapt to that eventuality is to be determined.
As the physical structure of the Earth, at least with regard to plate tectonics, will not likely change until the planet’s eventual destruction billions of years from now, there is no reason to believe that the Ring of Fire will not continue to affect the millions of people who live along and within its great expanse.