Almost 100 Volcanoes Found Lurking Beneath Antarctica’s Ice Sheet

Posted: Aug 18 2017, 5:59am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 18 2017, 6:01am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Almost 100 Volcanoes Found Lurking Beneath Antarctica’s Ice Sheet

Researchers suggest that it could be largest volcanic region on Earth

Scientists have discovered 91 previously unknown volcanoes beneath the clam, icy surface of Antarctica. These volcanoes range in height from 300 to 12000 feet and stretch across thousands of kilometers from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Newly discovered volcanoes take the totall tally of volcanoes in the region to 138. 47 of them are already known as their peaks are protruding through the ice. Given these figures, it appears that it could be the largest volcanic region on Earth.

“Antarctica remains among the least studied areas of the globe, and as a young scientist I was excited to learn about something new and not well understood. After examining existing data on West Antarctica, I began discovering traces of volcanism. Naturally I looked into it further, which led to this discovery of almost 100 volcanoes under the ice sheet.” Max Van Wyk de Vries, a third-year student in the School of GeoSciences who initiated the study said. He made the new discovery by analyzing publically available radar mapping data of Antarctica.

Antarctica is rapidly fracturing and melting through recent years. Rising temperatures above and warm waters below are making some scientists fear that Antarctica’s ice sheet could face an unstoppable disintegration in the future. In this case, the presence of these volcanoes could lead to even worse consequences.

“If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilize west Antarctica’s ice sheets. Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea.” Glacier expert Robert Bingham, one of the study authors told The Guardian.

To confirm that the presence of volcanoes was not simply a fluke, or an error in data, geologists compared the findings with satellite and database records, as well as geological information from aerial surveys. Then, they analyzed the shape of the land under the ice sheet using measurements from ice-penetrating radar and found that this volcanic region has similarities to East Africa's volcanic ridge, which is currently recognized as the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world. The largest of these volcanoes is as tall as Eiger Mountain in Switzerland.

The discovery is important because it can help researchers understand the influence of volcanoes on long-term fluctuations in Antarctica ice sheet and how the continent has changed during past climates.

“It is fascinating to uncover an extensive range of volcanoes in this relatively unexplored continent. Better understanding of volcanic activity could shed light on their impact on Antarctica's ice in the past, present and future, and on other rift systems around the world.” Dr. Bingham said.

Next, researchers hope to determine how many of these volcanoes are active. But it has been a tricky problem to understand exactly what is going on beneath the vast ice sheet of Antarctica.

“The most volcanism that is going in the world at present is in regions that have only recently lost their glacier covering – after the end of the last ice age. These places include Iceland and Alaska. Theory suggests that this is occurring because, without ice sheets on top of them, there is a release of pressure on the regions’ volcanoes and they become more active,” said Bingham.

“It is something we will have to watch closely.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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