Anatahan Volcano, located in the northern Marianas Islands along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," as it appeared in February 2003 from the R/V Thompson, three months before the volcano erupted.
Volcanic eruptions occur only in certain places and do not occur randomly. This is because the Earth’s crust is broken into a series of slabs known as tectonic plates. These plates are rigid, but they “float” on a hotter, softer layer in the Earth's interior. As the plates move, they spread apart, collide, or slide past each other.
Sixty percent of all active volcanoes occur at the boundaries between tectonic plates. Most volcanoes are found along a belt, called the “Ring of Fire” that encircles the Pacific Ocean. Some volcanoes, like those that form the Hawaiian Islands, occur in the interior of plates at areas called “hot spots.”
Although most of the active volcanoes we see on land occur where plates collide, the greatest number of the Earth's volcanoes are hidden from view, occurring on the ocean floor along spreading ridges.
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