A study of ice and fire

Posted August 15, 2017

We have nearly triped the number of volcanoes known to exist in west Antarctica.

The ground-penetrating radar was compared and contrasted with aerial surveys and satellite images, write the scientists from Edinburgh's School of Geosciences.

The analysis began with the concept of an undergraduate, Max Van Wyk de Vries, who theorized that publicly-available radar mapping of the continent could reveal what lies beneath the ice cover. If climate change triggers the melting of the ice sheets on the southern continent, the researchers believe it is entirely conceivable the volcanoes under Antarctica will start to stir, threatening the possibility of a major eruption.

A remote survey of what's called the West Antarctic Rift System uncovered 138 volcanoes in total - 91 of which had never been detected before - and scientists say it's imperative we find out if any of these hidden peaks remain active.

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While researchers cannot now determine if the volcanoes are active, the new findings can help scientists take a closer look at how the volcanism in the area is influencing ice sheet growth. They have not determined if the volcanoes are active or not, but the awareness of their presence could help scientists researching seismic monitoring in Antarctica.

"Theory suggests that this is occurring because, without ice sheets on top of them, there is a release of pressure on the regions' volcanoes and they become more active", the glacier expert told the Guardian.

Dr Robert Bingham, from the University of Edinburgh, said the detection of the volcanoes could help them understand other rift systems.

This story originally appeared on The Independent.

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With the highest over 13,000 feet, the network of volcanoes under Antarctica sits quietly about two miles below the surface.

All are covered in ice, sometimes in layers that are more than 4km thick.

"We have identified here a number of volcanic edifices sitting within the [West Antarctic Ice Sheet's] deep basins; these edifices, which are likely to owe their existence to volcanism, could represent some of the most influential pinning points for past and future ice retreat", the study says. "Essentially, we were looking for evidence of volcanic cones sticking up into the ice", Bingham said. Perhaps one of these newly discovered volcanoes will blow within our lifetimes, and we'll actually get a chance to see it. It can lead to rise in the sea level which s already affecting our oceans. One of Antarctica's most famous volcanoes, Mt. Erebus, is located in the region and has been active for some 1.3 million years, and Mt. Sidley, the highest volcano in Antarctica, is also nearby. "Volcanic activity may increase if Antarctica's ice thins, which is likely in a warming climate".

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