Volcanoes Discovered Under Antarctica's Ice

Aerial view of Mount Erebus craters in the foreground with Mount Terror in the background Ross Island Antarctica

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have unearthed 91 volcanoes in Antarctica which haven't been discovered until now. The underside of the ice was surveyed for basalt rock; radar detected the volcanoes' sizes and locations.The finding is significant, as the thick ice sheet makes spotting and identifying geological formations hard.

The volcanoes are located in the area known as the West Antarctic Rift System, which extends for 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from the Ross Ice Shelf to the Antarctic Peninsula, according to a report by Gizmodo.

The newly discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 metres, and are concentrated in the west Antarctic rift system.

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.

If you wanted to find the place with the most volcanoes, you might think to head to an island in the Pacific or along the east coast of Africa, but you'd actually need to take a trip to the South Pole.

"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", said de Vries, a third-year undergraduate.

An aerial view of the rift in the Larsen C seen in an image from the Digital Mapping System over the Antarctica Peninsula Antarctica
REUTERS NASA's Goddard Space Flight CenterAntarctica's Huge Breakaway Iceberg'Unlikely to Be Caused by Climate Change

'Anything that causes the melting of ice - which an eruption certainly would - is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea.

Are the Volcanoes Active or Not?

A volcanic eruption in this region could further destabilise west Antarctica's ice sheets. The researchers suspect that there might be even more volcanoes hiding on the seafloor. Previous studies have also hinted at the presence of the volcanoes #Beneath The Ice, but due to the presence of the immensely thick layer of the ice covering the surface, it has been immensely hard to study the geology.

Coffin, who wasn't involved with the new study, says the researchers' approach is admirable, and the results fascinating-but he's taking issue with a central claim made by the authors. "However we shouldn't inhibit youthful exuberance!" Some of these volcanoes are sitting under more than a mile of ice, and it required a detailed study using ice-penetrating radar, satellite records, and geological information to find them.

Red-hot magma bursting through the Antarctic ice sheet evokes a particularly powerful mental image. It would be a song of fire and ice, indeed.

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