Scientists discover 91 volcanoes in Antarctica

By AG Staff 14 August 2017
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If one of the volcanoes were to erupt west Antarctica’s ice sheets would be further destabilised while the increase in melted ice would cause sea-levels to rise, scientists say.

A TEAM OF RESEARCHERS from Edinburgh University have discovered the largest region of volcanoes across West Antarctica, approximately two kilometres below the surface, spanning between 100 m to 3,850 m in height.

Researchers say that the recent discovery of 91 volcanoes, in addition to the 47 that were already known across west Antarctica, means that east Africa’s volcanic ridge no longer has the densest concentration of volcanoes.

However this new record may have dire consequences, scientists explained.  

“If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” said Robert Bingham, a glacier expert who co-authored the paper. “Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea,” which would then result in sea-level rises.

The research – a part of the Edinburgh volcano survey, published in the Geological Society Special Publications series, began by studying the presence of basalt rock across the underside of west Antarctic ice sheets. Soon enough, Max Van Wyk de Vries, an undergraduate student and co-author of the research, found traces of volcanism.

“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,” he said.

The researchers analysed measurements from previous surveys of west Antarctic ice sheets and compared these with recent data from aerial surveys, which ultimately led to the new discovery of 91 volcanoes.

“We had not expected to find anything like that number. We have almost trebled the number of volcanoes known to exist in west Antarctica,” said Bingham.

‘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 research has not looked into whether these volcanoes are active, however the new discoveries with contribute to the seismic monitoring in west Antarctica.