Ring of Fire

Experience the explosive power of active underwater volcanoes where Earth’s deepest ocean trenches are located.



Orange and red flashes in the pitch black. Lava oozes from the cracks, and rolls across the ocean floor. Earthquakes rumble and roar as tectonic plates grate against each other.

We’re at the rim of the Pacific Basin. Because it is one of the most geologically active places on Earth, scientists have nicknamed the area, “The Ring of Fire.” The movement of tectonic plates has created a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches and chains of volcanoes stretching for twenty-five thousand miles.

The Ring of Fire is home to hundreds of volcanoes. But most remain hidden far below the water’s surface. In fact, seventy-five percent of all volcanic activity on the Earth happens in the ocean. But the effects of all this activity aren’t felt only in the Pacific Basin. Earth’s ocean and geology are global, interconnected systems that can affect us all.

Tsunamis can be generated by underwater earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or landslides. And, as we have seen, their impacts can be devastating.

Undersea volcanoes produce chemicals and heat that affect the ocean environment. We need to better understand these “natural” inputs as we increasingly introduce our own with manmade pollutants.

We’ve only recently begun to explore the hundreds of volcanoes rising from the ocean floor that make up the Ring of Fire. Over the last few decades, several expeditions to the western Pacific basin have been conducted. Using the latest mapping and robotic instruments, researchers have learned more about the geologic activity at these sites and the marine life that thrives on hydrothermal vent systems.

But learning new things often leads to more questions, which means there’s still a whole lot more left for us to discover.