Plate Tectonics and the Ring of Fire

Plate Tectonics and the Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire is a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity, or earthquakes, around the edges of the Pacific Ocean.


3 - 12


Earth Science, Geology, Geography, Physical Geography

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...
Leveled by
Selected text level

A volcano is a kind of mountain. Sometimes, it erupts. When that happens, hot melted rock comes out of the top.

A group of 452 volcanoes goes all around the Pacific Ocean. They form the Ring of Fire. Three out of every four live volcanoes on Earth are here. Almost all earthquakes happen here, too.

The Ring of Fire is about 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) long. That's nine times the width of the United States.

Plate Boundaries?

The top part of Earth is called the crust. It's like the planet's skin. The Ring of Fire is formed by huge pieces of crust called tectonic plates. The plates are as large as continents. They are always moving. They move very slowly, though.

Convergent Boundaries

Sometimes, plates crash into each other. When that happens, the edge, or boundary, is called convergent. The heavier plate can slip under the lighter plate. The rock on the bottom gets so hot that it melts. The melted rock is called magma. The magma rises through the crust to create volcanoes.

Divergent Boundaries

Other times, plates pull away from each other. This is called a divergent boundary. Melted rock comes up from below to fill in the space. Then, cold seawater cools the rock. This rock forms new crust.

Transform Boundaries

Plates can slide past each other, too. Parts of these plates break as they rub against each other. The plates push forward and cause earthquakes. These edges are called transform boundaries. The parts where earthquakes happen are called faults.

Hot Spots

The Ring of Fire also has hot spots deep inside Earth. Heat rises from the hot spots. The rock around them turns into magma. The magma pushes through cracks in the crust to form volcanoes.

Active Volcanoes In The Ring Of Fire

There are many famous volcanoes along the Ring of Fire. Krakatoa is an island volcano in Indonesia. The country of Indonesia is between South Asia and Australia.

Mount Fuji is Japan's tallest and most famous mountain. It is also a volcano. Mount Fuji sits where three tectonic plates meet.

Mount St. Helens is a volcano in the U.S. state of Washington. It lies on a weak part of the crust. That makes it erupt more often.

Fast Fact

Cooling Ring
The Pacific Plate, which drives much of the tectonic activity in the Ring of Fire, is cooling off. Scientists have discovered that the youngest parts of the Pacific Plate (about two million years old) are cooling off and contracting at a faster rate than older parts of the plate (about 100 million years old). The younger parts of the plate are found in its northern and western parts—the most active parts of the Ring of Fire.

Fast Fact

Jolting Japan
The island nation of Japan lies along the western edge of the Ring of Fire, and is one of the most tectonically active places on Earth. As much as 10 percent of the world’s volcanic activity takes place in Japan.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

April 30, 2024

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources