If a couple of these babies should pop off, we could be looking at lots more melting ice.
“Scientists discover 91 volcanoes below Antarctic ice sheet,” read the headline in The Guardian on 12 Aug 2017.
This is in addition to the 47 subglacial volcanoes already known about in Antarctica, wrote Robin McKie.
This makes it the largest volcanic region on Earth, and it’s hidden 1.2 miles (2 km) below the surface of the vast ice sheet that covers west Antarctica.
A project by Edinburgh University researchers revealed the 91 volcanoes – with the highest as tall as the Eiger, which stands at almost 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) in Switzerland.
Put another way, the highest of these newly discovered volcanoes stands more than two miles tall!
The tips of some of the volcanoes actually lie above the ice and have been spotted by polar explorers over the past century.
Geologists say this huge region is likely to dwarf that of east Africa’s volcanic ridge, currently rated as having the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.
And the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, they warn. “If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” said glacier expert Robert Bingham, one of the paper’s authors. “Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea.
But how many lie below the ice? Max Van Wyk de Vries, who was then an undergraduate at the university’s school of geosciences and a self-confessed volcano fanatic, set up the project with the help of Bingham. They analysed measurements made by previous surveys using ice-penetrating radar, then compared the results with satellite and database records and geological information from other aerial surveys. “Essentially, we were looking for evidence of volcanic cones sticking up into the ice,” Bingham said..
These newly discovered volcanoes are all covered in ice, which sometimes lies in layers that are more than 2.5 miles (4km) thick in the region. These active peaks are concentrated in the west Antarctic rift system, which stretches 3,500km from Antarctica’s Ross ice shelf to the Antarctic peninsula.
“We were amazed,” Bingham said. “We had not expected to find anything like that number…. 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 discovery is particularly important because if heat from these volcanoes should melt the ice, meltwater outflows into the Antarctic ocean could trigger sea level rises. “We just don’t know about how active these volcanoes have been in the past,” Bingham said. “That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”
My question is, if we don’t even know for sure how many volcanoes may be lurking beneath the ice even today, how do we know how much ice they (and not humans) may be melting? We love blaming humans for outcomes driven by strictly natural forces.
See entire article by Robin McKie: