Scottish scientists have detected 91 volcanoes under a massive ice sheet in west Antarctica, potentially revealing one of the largest volcanic regions on Earth.
The volcanoes are located in the West Antarctic Rift System, a 2,200-mile valley created by separating tectonic plates. The discovery brings the total number of volcanoes in the area to 138. The heights of the volcanoes range from 300 feet to 12,600 feet, with the tallest as high as Mount Fuji in Japan.
Who discovered them? Max Van Wyk de Vries, a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, came up with the idea for the study after analyzing publicly available radar maps of Antarctica.
Geoscientists at the university ran with the suggestion, remotely surveying the underside of the ice sheet and analyzing the shape of the land using satellite imagery.
Could the volcanoes blow away Antarctica’s ice? The scientists were unable to determine volcanic activity in the range, according their recent study in the Geological Society of London. But even inactive or dormant volcanoes can melt ice because of the high temperatures the volcanoes generate underground.
Higher temperatures raise the possibility of future ice thinning in the West Antarctic Rift System.
“Volcanic activity may increase and this, in turn, may lead to enhanced water production and contribute to further potential ice-dynamical instability,” the report states.
Why that’s important: Eruptions could further destabilize some of the region’s ice sheets and trigger a rise in sea levels, according to glaciologist, Robert Bingham in an interview with The Guardian.
Next up: The team plans to conduct further studies on volcanic activity and their effects on ice sheet growth or decay.