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Volcanoes are not randomly distributed over the Earth's surface. Most are concentrated on the edges of continents, along island chains, or beneath the sea where they form long mountain ranges. More than half of the world's active volcanoes above sea level encircle the Pacific Ocean (see Fig. 1). The concept of plate tectonics explains the locations of volcanoes and their relationship to other large-scale geologic features. The Earth's surface is made up of a patchwork of about a dozen large plates and a number of smaller ones that move relative to one another at <1 cm to ~10 cm/yr (about the speed at which fingernails grow). These rigid plates, with average thickness of ~80 km, are separating, sliding past each other, or colliding on top of the Earth's hot, viscous interior. Volcanoes tend to form where plates collide or spread apart (Fig. 2) but can also grow in the middle of a plate, like the Hawaiian volcanoes (Fig. 3).

Of the more than 1,500 volcanoes worldwide believed to have been active in the past 10,000 years, 169 are in the United States and its territories (Ewert et al., 2005) (see Fig. 4). As of spring 2007, two of these volcanoes, Kilauea and Mount St. Helens, are erupting, while several others, including Mauna Loa, Fourpeaked, Korovin, Veniaminof, and Anatahan, exhibit one or more signs of restlessness, such as anomalous earthquakes, deformation of the volcano's surface, or changes in volume and composition

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