Science

World's biggest volcanic cluster discovered in Antarctica

World's biggest volcanic cluster discovered in Antarcticaā€¯

A group of researchers from the University of Edinburgh found 91 volcanoes hidden beneath the ice cover in the western part of Antarctica.

The discovery adds to the growing concern for a region already affected by climate change, and scientists say if one were to erupt it could further destabilise the ice sheets.

It is unclear whether the Antarctic volcanoes are active, but previous studies have suggested that during warmer periods volcanic activity does occur in the region.

The idea to look for further volcanoes beneath the ice sheet came from a third-year student at the University of Edinburgh, Max Van Wyk de Vries.

"Anything that causes the melting of ice - which an eruption certainly would - is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea. That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible", geoscientist Robert Bingham from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom told The Guardian.

What they were looking for were conical edifices protruding upwards into the ice across West Antarctica - pretty much the same thing we see when topside volcanoes extend out of Earth's surface.

"We were amazed. We had not expected to find anything like that number", Bingham told The Guardian. One of the volcanoes is nearly 4,000 meters high.

They analysed the shape of the land beneath using measurements from ice-penetrating radar and compared the findings with satellite and database records, as well as geological information from aerial surveys.

It is hoped the discovery will allow scientists to understand how volcanoes affect long-term fluctuations in the ice sheet as well as what the continent was like in past climates.

According to geologists and ice experts, the mountain range has similarities with east Africa's volcanic ridge, which is known to be the heaviest concentration of volcanoes on the planet.

"Moreover, there is evidence that, worldwide, volcanism is most frequent in deglaciating regions as the overburden pressure of the ice is first reduced and then removed".



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