Education Lesson Plans
The Ring of Fire is an arc of active volcanoes and earthquake sites that partially encircles the Pacific Ocean Basin.The location of the Ring of Fire coincides with the location of oceanic trenches and volcanic island arcs that result from the motion of large pieces of the Earths crust (tectonic plates). Tectonic plates consist of portions of the Earths outer crust (the lithosphere) about 5 km thick, as well as the upper 60 - 75 km of the underlying mantle. The plates move on a hot flowing mantle layer called the asthenosphere, which is several hundred kilometers thick. Heat within the asthenosphere creates convection currents (similar to the currents that can be seen if food coloring is added to a heated container of water). These convection currents cause the tectonic plates to move several centimeters per year relative to each other.
The junction of two tectonic plates is known as a plate boundary. Where two plates slide horizontally past each other, the junction is known as a transform plate boundary. Movement of the plates causes huge stresses that break portions of the rock and produce earthquakes. Places where these breaks occur are called faults. A well-known example of a transform plate boundary is the San Andreas fault in California.
Where tectonic plates are moving apart, they form a divergent plate boundary.At these boundaries, magma (molten rock) rises from deep within the Earth and erupts to form new crust on the lithosphere. Most divergent plate boundaries are underwater (Iceland is an exception), and form submarine mountain ranges called oceanic spreading ridges. If two tectonic plates collide more or less head-on, they produce a convergent plate boundary. Usually, one of the converging plates moves beneath the other in a process called subduction. Subduction produces deep trenches, and earthquakes are common. As the sinking plate moves deeper into the mantle, increasing pressure and heat release fluids from the rock causing the overlying mantle to partially melt. The new magma rises and may erupt violently to form volcanoes that often form arcs of islands along the convergent boundary. These island arcs are always landward of the neighboring trenches. This process can be visualized as a huge conveyor belt on which new crust is formed at the oceanic spreading ridges and older crust is recycled to the lower mantle at the convergent plate boundaries. The Ring of Fire marks the location of a series of convergent plate boundaries in the western Pacific Ocean.
Underwater volcanism produces hot springs in the middle of cold, deep ocean waters. These springs (known as hydrothermal vents) were first discovered in 1977 when scientists in the submersible Alvin visited an oceanic spreading ridge near the Galapagos Islands, and made one of the most exciting discoveries in 20th century biology. Here they found warm springs surrounded by large numbers of animals that had never been seen before. Since they were first discovered, sea-floor hot springs around spreading ridges have been intensively studied. In contrast, the hydrothermal systems around convergent plate boundaries are relatively unexplored.
The Mariana Arc is part of the Ring of Fire that lies to the north of Guam in the western Pacific. Here, the fast-moving Pacific Plate is subducted beneath the slower-moving Philippine Plate, creating the Marianas Trench (which includes the Challenger Deep, the deepest known area of the Earths oceans). The Marianas Islands are the result of volcanoes caused by this subduction, which frequently causes earthquakes as well. In 2003, the Ocean Exploration Ring of Fire Expedition surveyed more than 50 volcanoes along the Mariana Arc, and discovered that ten of these had active hydrothermal systems. The 2004 Submarine Ring of Fire Expedition focussed specifically on hydrothermal systems of the Mariana Arc volcanoes, and found that these systems are very different from those found along mid-ocean ridges. The 2005 Submarine Ring of Fire Expedition will explore hydrothermally active volcanoes in the Kermadec Arc, an area where tectonic plates are converging more rapidly than any other subduction zone in the world.
Each grade-level grouping includes activities that focus on the exploration and research being conducted as part of this expedition. In addition to being tied to the National Science Education Standards, the hands-on, inquiry-based activities include focus questions, background information for teachers, links to interesting Internet sites, and extensions. Web logs that document the latest discoveries and complement the lesson plans, complete with compelling images and video, will be regularly sent back from sea. Teachers are encouraged to use the daily logs posted on this site to supplement the lesson plans.
Read a description of each lesson plan and/or download them to your computer. All of the lesson plans are available in pdf format, and may be viewed and printed with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download a lesson plan, click on its title from the listing below.
Whats for Dinner? (6 pages, 285Kb)
Focus: Sources of nutrition for biological communities associated with volcanoes of the Marianas Arc (Life Science)
Students will be able to compare and contrast photosynthesis and chemosynthesis as sources of primary production for biological communities.
Students will be able to give at least three examples of organisms that live near hydrothermal vent systems.
Students will be able to describe two sources of primary
production observed in biological communities associated with volcanoes
of the Marianas Arc.
(7 pages, 264Kb)
Focus: Scientific exploration of deep-sea volcanoes (Life Science/Physical Science/Earth Science)
Students will be able to compare and contrast submarine volcanoes at convergent and divergent plate boundaries.
Students will be able to infer the kinds of living organisms that may be found around hydrothermal vents.
Students will be able to describe three ways in which scientists may prepare to explore areas that are practically unknown.
Students will be able to explain two types of primary production that may be important to biological communities around hydrothermal vents in the Mariana Arc.
Going to Blow Up! (10 pages, 337Kb)
Focus: Volcanism on the Pacific Ring of Fire (Earth Science)
Students will be able to describe the processes that produce the Submarine Ring of Fire.
Students will be able to explain the factors that contribute to explosive volcanic eruptions.
Students will be able to identify at least three benefits that humans derive from volcanism.
Students will be able to describe the primary risks posed
by volcanic activity in the United States, and will be able to identify
the volcano within the continental U.S. that is considered most dangerous.
a Gas! Or Is It? (9 pages, 270Kb)
Focus: Effects of temperature and pressure on solubility and phase state (Physical Science/Earth Science)
Students will be able to describe the effect of temperature and pressure on solubility of gases and solid materials.
Students will be able to describe the effect of temperature and pressure on the phase state of gases.
Students will be able to infer explanations for observed chemical phenomena around deep-sea volcanoes that are consistent with principles of solubility and phase state.
Big Balancing Act (9 pages, 383Kb)
Focus: Hydrothermal vent chemistry at subduction volcanoes (Chemistry/Earth Science)
Students will be able to define and describe hydrothermal circulation systems.
Students will be able to explain the overall sequence of chemical reactions that occur in hydrothermal circulation systems.
Students will be able to compare and contrast black
smokers and white smokers.Given data on chemical enrichment
that occurs in hydrothermal circulation systems, students will be able
to make inferences about the relative significance of these systems to
ocean chemical balance compared to terrestrial runoff.
the Difference? (7 pages, 261Kb)
Focus: Volcanic processes at convergent and divergent tectonic plate boundaries (Earth Science)
Students will be able to compare and contrast volcanoes at convergent and divergent plate boundaries.
Students will be able to identify three geologic features that are associated with most volcanoes on Earth.
Students will be able to explain why some volcanoes erupt
explosively while others do not.
There's Smoke, There's ... (6 pages, 248Kb)
Focus: Hydrothermal vent chemistry at subduction volcanoes (Chemistry)
Students will be able to use fundamental relationships between
melting points, boiling points, solubility, temperature, and pressure to
develop plausible explanations for observed chemical phenomena in the vicinity
of subduction volcanoes.
Looks Like Champagne (7 pages, 276Kb)
Focus: Deep ocean carbon dioxide and global climate change (Chemistry/Earth Science)
Students will be able to interpret phase diagrams, and explain the meaning of critical point and triple point.
Students will be able to define supercritical fluid, and will be able to describe two practical uses of supercritical carbon dioxide.
Students will be able to discuss the concept of carbon dioxide sequestration.
For More Information
Contact Paula Keener-Chavis, national education coordinator for the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, for more information.
Other lesson plans developed for this Web site are available in the Education Section.