Back in August 2017, scientists discovered 91 volcanoes below Antarctic ice sheet, with the highest as tall as the Eiger, which stands at almost 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) in Switzerland. This is in addition to the 47 subglacial volcanoes already known about in Antarctica.
This makes it the largest volcanic region on Earth, and it’s hidden 1.2 miles (2 km) below the surface of the vast ice sheet that covers west Antarctica.
Put another way, the highest of these newly discovered volcanoes stands more than two miles tall!
The tips of some of the volcanoes actually lie above the ice and have been spotted by polar explorers over the past century.
Geologists say this huge region is likely to dwarf that of east Africa’s volcanic ridge, currently rated as having the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world. Learn more about the geology of Antarctica here…
And the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, they warn. “If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” said glacier expert Robert Bingham, one of the paper’s authors. “Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea.“
How many volcanoes lie under Antarctica ice?
Max Van Wyk de Vries analysed measurements made by previous surveys using ice-penetrating radar, then compared the results with satellite and database records and geological information from other aerial surveys. Essentially, he was looking for evidence of volcanic cones sticking up into the ice.
These newly discovered volcanoes are all covered in ice, which sometimes lies in layers that are more than 2.5 miles (4km) thick in the region. These active peaks are concentrated in the west Antarctic rift system, which stretches 3,500km from Antarctica’s Ross ice shelf to the Antarctic peninsula.
“We were amazed… We had not expected to find anything like that number…. We also suspect there are even more on the bed of the sea that lies under the Ross ice shelf, so that I think it is very likely this region will turn out to be the densest region of volcanoes in the world, greater even than east Africa, where mounts Nyiragongo, Kilimanjaro, Longonot and all the other active volcanoes are concentrated.”
The discovery is particularly important because if heat from these volcanoes should melt the ice, meltwater outflows into the Antarctic ocean could trigger sea level rises.
“We just don’t know about how active these volcanoes have been in the past,” Bingham said. “That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”
If a couple of these babies should pop off, we could be looking at lots more melting ice.
My question is, if we don’t even know for sure how many volcanoes may be lurking beneath the ice even today, how do we know how much ice they (and not humans) may be melting? We love blaming humans for outcomes driven by strictly natural forces. [IceAgeNow]
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