Scientists Find 91 More Volcanoes Hidden Under Antarctica Ice

Edinburgh University scientists fear their latest discoveries could have crucial consequences

Edinburgh University scientists fear their latest discoveries could have crucial consequences

West Antarctica's vast ice sheet conceals what may be the largest volcanic region on earth, research has revealed.

Geologists and ice experts say the range has many similarities to East Africa's volcanic ridge, which is now acknowledged to be the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world. The study's authors don't think volcanic activity has contributed to Antarctica's now retreating ice sheet.

Binghams' team used ice-sheet bed-elevation data sourced from a database called Bedmap 2, to study the rift system lying underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

If they are reduced significantly, this could release pressure on the volcanoes that lie below and lead to eruptions that could further destabilise the ice sheets and enhance sea level rises that are already affecting our oceans, Bingham noted.

Of course, we can't physically see these volcano peaks when they're hidden underground, but ice-penetrating radar signals can detect their basalt rock forms within the ice sheet.

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Their results do not indicate whether the volcanoes are active, but should inform ongoing research into seismic monitoring in the area. This may also speed up the outflow of ice to sea.

According to the study, the analysis gives a deeper look at an area that is not well understood from a volcanic standpoint, due to the ice cover.

The dozens of newly determined formations almost double the 47 volcanoes previously located in West Antarctica, with the newly identified volcanoes towering up to 2.4 miles in height.

Dozens of volcanoes are lurking underneath the ice of Antarctica, possibly making one part of the frozen continent the biggest volcanic region in the world. Researchers determined 138 of those to be volcanoes, with 91 undiscovered until now.

You could say Antarctica sings a song of fire and ice.

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"The largely uneroded nature of the cones suggest that many may be of Pleistocene age or younger, which supports the argument that the rift remains active today", they write, adding that the concentration of volcanoes could mean major changes to come.

'Essentially, we were looking for evidence of volcanic cones sticking up into the ice'.

The West Antarctic Rift is bounded by the Transantarctic Mountains, stopping just shy of the peninsula and is largely covered by the Ross Ice Shelf. Perhaps one of these newly discovered volcanoes will blow within our lifetimes, and we'll actually get a chance to see it. We have nearly trebled the number of volcanoes known to exist in west Antarctica.

Researchers have also found that volcanism in areas starts to increase with the decrease of glaciers, which could be the case for Antarctica.

"It is something we will have to watch closely", Bingham told The Guardian.

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Further study is needed to determine whether the volcanoes are active.

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