World's densest region of volcanoes is found beneath West Antarctica's ice

An aerial view of the rift in the Larsen C seen in an image from the Digital Mapping System over the Antarctica Peninsula Antarctica

An aerial view of the rift in the Larsen C seen in an image from the Digital Mapping System over the Antarctica Peninsula Antarctica

The underside of the ice was surveyed for basalt rock; radar detected the volcanoes' sizes and locations.The finding is significant, as the thick ice sheet makes spotting and identifying geological formations hard.

The research is published by the Geological Society of London. The volcanoes were found in the West Antarctic Rift System, a 2200-mile long stretch housing volcanoes as small as 326 feet to as large as 12,600 feet-all completely encased under the ice.

Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, may now be home to the densest concentration of volcanoes, according to a first-of-its-kind study.

Using data from the British Antarctic Survey, researchers looked for volcanoes by hunting for their tell-tale cones.

Surveys carried out by scientists at the University of Edinburgh found a range of active volcanoes underneath thick layers of ice.

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 overlies the West Antarctic Rift System about which, due to the comprehensive ice cover, we have only limited and sporadic knowledge of volcanic activity and its extent.

Researchers at Edinburgh University in the United Kingdom revealed a staggering 91 volcanoes, adding to the 47 others that had been discovered previously, with the highest as tall as the Eiger, which stands at nearly 4,000 metres in Switzerland.

Over the last century, only 47 volcanoes had been recorded in the Antarctic region.

The volcanoes are distributed across subglacial West Antarctica, but are especially concentrated in Marie Byrd Land (one cone per 11,200 square kilometers, plus or minus 600) and along a central belt roughly corresponding to the rift's central sinuous ridge, with one cone per 7800 km, square kilometers, plus or minus 400. "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 big question is: how active are these volcanoes?". "Anything that causes the melting of ice-which an eruption certainly would-is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea".

Van Wyck De Vries' full paper, "A new volcanic province: an inventory of subglacial volcanoes in West Antarctica", can be found here and read without charge.

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