Almost 100 previously unknown volcanoes, some of which are more than 12,000 feet tall, have been discovered hidden more than a mile beneath the extensive ice sheets of western Antarctica, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh's School of Geosciences.
Scientists have identified almost 100 previously unknown volcanoes in West Antarctica, which, in addition to the 47 already known to exist in the region, makes it one of the largest concentration of volcanoes in the world.
The study's authors said Antarctic ice melt could have "profound impacts" for volcanic activity in the region.
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.
"The West Antarctic Ice Sheet shrouds one of the world's largest volcanic provinces, similar in scale to the East African Rift System", they write.
This would lead to eruptions that could further destabilise ice sheets and enhance sea level rises, something Dr Bingham is keen to monitor. The volcanoes are hidden under the Antarctic ice sheet, but the Bedmap 2 survey uses ice-penetrating radar signals to detect the protrusions. They compared the data they gathered to satellite and database records, along with geological information from aerial surveys. The team's results do not indicate whether the volcanoes are active, but should inform ongoing research into seismic monitoring in the area.
'Anything that causes the melting of ice - which an eruption certainly would - is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea.More news: China bans North Korean coal and iron imports following tough United Nations sanctions
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Volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3850 meters, with the highest one as tall as Switzerland's 3,970 meter Eiger mountain.
The 91 new finds were added to another nearly 50 volcanoes already known to exist there. It could be that numerous volcanoes are now extinct, he says. "If the rock bed of the ice sheet is smooth, then retreat can proceed rapidly, but if the bed contains lots of topography, like volcanic cones, or craters, then this could slow the rate of retreat a lot", Cottle says.
The researchers were looking for conical edifices protruding upwards into the ice across West Antarctica something like what we see when topside volcanoes extend out of earth's surface.
These newly discovered volcanoes range from 100 to 3,850 metres high. All are covered in ice, which sometimes lies in layers that are more than 4km thick in the region.
Volcanic activity may increase if Antarctica's ice thins, which is likely in a warming climate, scientists say.
'We just don't know about how active these volcanoes have been in the past. A situation that must be closely monitored, said Bingham.