Over 90 volcanoes under Antarctic were recently discovered by scientists. The volcanoes, lurking beneath the ice, have scientists wondering about the potential for an eruption.
With the highest over 13,000 feet, the network of volcanoes under Antarctica sits quietly about two miles below the surface. Making up the largest volcanic region on Earth, the 91 previously unknown volcanoes stretch 2,100 miles along the western edge of the continent.
The team of scientists, led by glacier expert Robert Bingham, fears any eruptions could adversely affect Antarctica’s vast ice sheets, causing them to melt and fall into the sea. The addition of new water into the Antarctic Ocean would certainly result in significantly higher sea levels worldwide, according to Bingham.
Yet, the research team has a much bigger concern. Earth science experts have determined that glaciers covered the most active volcano regions in the world, like Alaska and Iceland, during the last ice age. Once the climate changed and the ice receded, the areas became alive with activity.
“The most volcanism that is going in the world at present is in regions that have only recently lost their glacier covering – after the end of the last ice age,” Bingham said, according to a report from the Guardian.
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Scientists theorize the volcanoes awoke once the pressure of tons of ice on top of them was released. 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 situation that must be closely monitored, said Bingham.
Volcanoes on the southernmost continent are not unheard of. Early explorers of Antarctica recorded the presence of volcanoes, but these protrude above the surface of the ice. These previously reported peaks got researchers wondering if hidden volcanoes could be waiting patiently under Antarctica’s ice.
The recently found volcanoes were identified using satellite measurements and ice-penetrating radar during a remote survey of the West Antarctic Rift System. Bingham and his team believe there may be even more volcanoes yet to be discovered.
So far, the Edinburgh University study has not found any active volcanoes under Antarctica. However, current science suggests present climate change forces affecting the environment could easily awaken the sleeping giants and ignite a future eruption.
[Featured Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images]