Geographical Breakdown of Natural Disasters – Ring of Fire

Natural disasters happen all over the world. If you review a week in the news, you’d likely find stories coming out of the Philippines and Hungary, San Francisco and Japan. We can never really ‘predict’ natural disasters, however, certain areas are susceptible to certain natural disasters. With this, we can always have an idea of what the most likely natural disasters are in our own community. At ePACT, we wanted to provide you with a geographical breakdown of natural disasters around the world to help you with this planning!

We have traveled from Europe, to the east and west coast of North America, and now we head across the Pacific to the Ring of Fire! The Ring of Fire is a horseshoe shape pattern of volcanoes, ocean trenches and plate movements from New Zealand up to Japan, through to Alaska and down to South America. There are 452 volcanoes located within the Ring of Fire, housing 75% of the entire world’s volcanoes. Approximately 90% of earthquakes around the world occur along the Ring of Fire as well.

So why is the Ring of Fire so seismically and naturally active? The Ring of Fire sits on top of several tectonic plates, with numerous convergent boundaries (convergent, divergent, and transform). These boundaries are often subduction zones, where heavy plates will slip under lighter ones, leading to the formation of volcanoes. From the largest recorded earthquake in the world to the deadliest tsunami, and the largest amount of volcanic activity, it has all happened throughout the Ring of Fire.

Debris including cars and airplanes left by the damage of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan - March 11, 2011.  (Photo by: Reuters/Kyodo)
Debris including cars and airplanes left by the damage of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan – March 11, 2011. (Photo by: Reuters/Kyodo)

Earthquakes – Earthquakes can be disastrous forces that happen with little or no warning. However, throughout the Ring of Fire, there are certain areas that are more likely than others to display seismic activity. In 1960, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded struck Chile, with a 9.5 rating on the Richter scale. The quake led to a tsunami that affected Chile, Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Alaska and the Philippines, as well as an estimated 3,000 deaths. The 2011 earthquake in Japan was one of the strongest the world has ever seen, with an overwhelming amount of damage.  The earthquake itself was a magnitude 9.0, and led to a severe tsunami as well. An estimated 15,883 fatalities, 6,149 injuries, and 2,652 missing persons resulted from the disaster, and property damage was worth approximately $310 billion. Luckily, one minute before the earthquake struck in Tokyo, the Earthquake Early Warning system sent out warnings to millions, which potentially saved many lives.

Typhoons/Hurricanes – Typhoons and hurricanes are the same weather phenomena, as we explained in last week’s Storms Versus Storms post. To put it simply, hurricanes occur in the Atlantic, and typhoons exist in the North Pacific. They are both menacing forces, causing major disruptions within cities, and ultimately lead to severe flooding as well. The Ring of Fire receives numerous typhoons throughout the year, with peak months being from August to October.

The area just northeast of the Philippines is the most active region on Earth for typhoons to grow, leading to an average of 20 major typhoons a year. Just this past week we’ve seen the lasting effects of Super Typhoon Haiyan, who has come to be known as the strongest storm in history, with sustained winds of 195 mph, and gusts of 235 mph. The physical damage has been shocking, to the point where recovery operations faced difficulties reaching victims. Numbers are still being confirmed, but close to 4,000 deaths have been reported with another 1,500 people still missing. Thankfully, the country is now receiving more aid, with disaster response specialists, medical doctors, food, water, and hygiene kits.

Floods – Flooding has the ability to occur almost anywhere in the world. In Canada, floods are the most frequently occurring natural disasters, with 241 flood disasters having occurred between 1900-2005. The Christmas Flood of 1964 took place from Oregon to Northern California, and was considered one of the worst floods in the United States history. The flood caused 19 fatalities, and over $100 million in damages to Humboldt County in California, alone. Flooding has affected many parts of the world, and is no different to cities and countries aligning the Pacific Ocean.

Waves wash through houses in Maddampegama, Sri Lanka - Dec. 26, 2004 (Photo by: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo)
Waves wash through houses in Maddampegama, Sri Lanka – Dec. 26, 2004 (Photo by: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo)

Tsunamis – There are a number of factors contributing to the fact that the Pacific Ocean produces the highest number of tsunamis across the globe. The Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest ocean, and is within the known boundaries of the Ring of Fire, where much tectonic activity occurs. Tsunamis don’t only occur because an earthquake is triggered; they can occur due to major displacement on the ocean floor, volcanoes underwater or on land, and landslides. All of these phenomena are common in the Pacific Ocean, and therefore, contribute to the high risk of tsunamis in the area.

One of the most destructive tsunamis occurred in 2004 in Indonesia when a 9.3 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra.  Prior to the tsunami, there were no tsunami warning systems in the Indian Oceans to detect tsunamis or warn people, and because the waves originated in the Indian Ocean before expanding into the Pacific, there was no way to get people to safety. The 2004 tsunami left approximately 227,000 fatalities, and is the worst tsunami to occur in history.

Volcanoes –A majority of the world’s volcanoes lie in and around the Ring of Fire. They can be found in many of the coastal areas including New Zealand, Japan, Philippines, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, California, and down to Chile. Volcanoes in Hawaii’s Island chain stretch over 2,500 km across the North Pacific ocean, currently situated on a hotspot region. Two of the world’s deadliest volcanic eruptions occurred in Indonesia. Mount Tambora’s eruption in 1815 is the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history, and caused global climate anomalies. When an eruption occurs as explosive as the one in Mount Tambora, a volcanic winter tends to follow, which is a reduction in global temperatures due to the volcanic ash and sulfuric acid in the environment. The summer following Mount Tambora’s eruption has come to be known as the Year Without a Summer, due to the volcanic winter and food shortages as a result of the cold temperatures. Krakatoa, also in Indonesia, erupted in 1883 and had the force of 13,000 atomic bombs. The eruption left the entire island in ruins, but a new island named Anak Krakatau, which translates to “child of Krakatoa,” has risen in its place since 1927.

Natural disasters are inevitable, and have occurred since long before humans occupied the earth. While we cannot stop natural disasters, our communities can implement better protective measures such as early warning systems for earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as building levees and dune systems for strong storms and hurricanes. At the same time, it is important for individuals to take emergency preparedness into their own hands, as government officials can only do so much. We urge you to start with just two steps to do this – build an emergency kit and make a family plan! With basic items like food, water, blankets, and a first aid kit, your loved ones will be better off in any emergency. And with ePACT, you can easily start your family plan by securely storing critical medical and contact details in your single emergency record. With your free account, you can also connect with the relatives, friends and organizations who will act as your support network in an unexpected situation to provide greater safety for all.

We hope that you enjoyed our series on Geographical Breakdowns of Natural Disasters, we certainly did! Send us your questions and geographical concerns on Twitter @epactnetwork! Thanks for reading!

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