Global warming caused the melt rate of glaciers in west Antarctica to triple in the past 10 years.
Scientists have identified 91 volcanoes hidden beneath the massive ice sheet covering west Antarctica, revealing one of the world’s largest volcanic regions.
The under-ice volcanoes may comprise the densest region of volcanoes in the world, rivaling even the East African region where Mount Kilimanjaro is found, researchers at Edinburgh University told the Guardian.
The dozens of newly determined formations nearly double the 47 volcanoes previously located in West Antarctica, with the newly identified volcanoes towering up to 2.4 miles in height. One big question remaining from the discovery, which scientists detailed in their study: Are the volcanoes still active?
“If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilize west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” co-author Robert Bingham, a glacial expert, told the Guardian, resulting in melted ice that could raise sea levels.
Researchers relied on surveys using radar technology to peer through Antarctica’s ice sheet, analyzing the measurements alongside other data to identity volcano-like formations. A five-point criteria was used to assess and ultimately identify the volcanoes.
The analysis found 178 cone-shaped formations beneath the ice, in what’s known as the West Antarctic Rift System. Researchers determined 138 of those to be volcanoes, with 91 undiscovered until now.
Further study is needed to determine whether the volcanoes are active. The study’s authors don’t think volcanic activity has contributed to Antarctica’s currently retreating ice sheet. But they do theorize that the loss of an icy covering over the volcanoes, spurred perhaps by future activity, could let the volcanoes to release pressure — becoming more active.
Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner
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