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The Ring of Fire's potential impact on British Columbia

Jill Colton, staff writer

March 18, 2011 — Most of the world's largest earthquakes occur along the 'Ring of Fire,' including the catastrophic 9.0-magnitude quake that rocked Japan on March 11.

Map of the Ring of Fire - courtesy of USGS.
Map of the Ring of Fire - courtesy of USGS.

The Ring of Fire is a chain of volcanoes and earthquakes that extend around the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

It's home to around 452 volcanoes and around 80 per cent of the world's most catastrophic rattlers occur along the horseshoe-shaped region.

John Clague, earthquake expert at Simon Fraser University in B.C., says it's called the 'Ring of Fire' because essentially it follows a line.

...all the way around from New Zealand on the south through Asia across the Aleutians and down our (B.C.) coast all the way down to South America, he explains.

WHY DO SO MANY QUAKES ORIGINATE IN THIS BELT?

According to scientists, earthquakes accompany elevation changes between the mountains and the ocean trenches.

This is precisely why areas in the 'Ring of Fire' are so susceptible to earthquake phenomenon -- because they have both the deep ocean trenches, and they parallel young, growing mountain chains.

B.C. is located in the northeast quadrant of the 'Ring of Fire.'

CHANCES OF A B.C. EARTHQUAKE

If you look at the pattern of earthquakes over the past year, a startling picture emerges. The north-east quadrant, where B.C. is located, has been the only area in the 'Ring of Fire' to avoid a devastating trembler.

  • March 11, 2011 -- 9.0-magnitude,Sendai, Japan. Northwest quadrant.
  • February 22, 2011 -- 6.3-magnitude, Canterbury, New Zealand. Southwest quadrant.
  • February 27, 2010 -- 8.8-magnitude, Maule Region, Chile. Southeast quadrant.

Clague believes the lack of activity in this region is definitely a cause for concern. ...we know the forces are building up that will lead to another earthquake, he warns.

Canada's largest historic onshore earthquake hit central Vancouver Island on June 23, 1946. The deadly 7.3 magnitude quake was felt as far away as Prince Rupert, BC and Portland, Oregon.

According to Brent Ward, geologist at Simon Fraser University in B.C. believes that if a quake similar to the one that hit Japan strikes, we could be looking at a tsunami at least as big as the one we saw in the terrifying video footage from Japan.

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