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Largest Volcanic Region on Earth Discovered in Antarctica

"The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,"

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The largest volcanic region is below the ice sheets in west Antarctica
Largest volcanic region discovered in Antarctica. Pixabay
  • The largest volcanic region on Earth has been discovered in west Antarctica 
  • The newly discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 m
  • These active peaks are concentrated in a region known as the west Antarctic rift system

London, August 15, 2017: The largest volcanic region on Earth — with nearly 100 volcanoes — has been discovered two km below the surface of the vast ice sheet in west Antarctica.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Britain found a staggering 91 previously unknown volcanoes, adding to the 47 others that had been discovered over the previous century of exploring the region.

These newly discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 m, with the highest almost as tall as Switzerland’s 3,970-m Eiger mountain.

These active peaks are concentrated in a region known as the west Antarctic rift system — which stretches 3,500 km from Antarctica’s Ross ice shelf to the Antarctic peninsula.

According to geologists, this huge region is likely to dwarf east Africa’s volcanic ridge — currently rated as the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.

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However, the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, glacier expert Robert Bingham was quoted as saying to the Guardian.

“If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” Bingham warned.

“Anything that causes the melting of ice, which an eruption certainly would, is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea,” he said.

“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” he added.

The Edinburgh volcano survey, reported in the Geological Society’s special publications series, involved studying the underside of the west Antarctica ice sheet for hidden peaks of basalt rock similar to those produced by the region’s other volcanoes.

Presently, volcanism is seen in regions, including Iceland and Alaska, that have recently lost their glacier covering. The same could happen in west Antarctica, where significant warming in the region caused by climate change has begun to affect its ice sheets.

If they are reduced significantly, this could release pressure on the volcanoes that lie below and lead to eruptions that could further destabilise the ice sheets and enhance sea level rises that are already affecting our oceans, Bingham noted. (IANS)

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Rapid Decay Indicated By Giant Cavity In Antarctic Glaciers

The melting rate on this side of the glacier is extremely high.

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A glacier is shown in a photo taken in Half Moon Bay, Antarctica, Feb. 18, 2018.
A glacier is shown in a photo taken in Half Moon Bay, Antarctica, Feb. 18, 2018. VOA

Scientists from NASA have discovered a gigantic cavity, almost 300 metres tall, growing at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, indicating acceleration in rising global sea levels due to climate change.

The size of the cavity, at Thwaites’ bottom where ocean water could flow in and melt the glacier from below, is big enough to have contained 14 billion tonnes of ice.

Importantly, most of that ice melted over the last three years, the findings showed.

“(The size of) a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting,” said lead author Pietro Milillo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

Antarctica, Ice
The Collins glacier on King George Island has retreated in the last 10 years and shows signs of fragility, in the Antarctic, Feb. 2, 2018. VOA

“As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster.”

The cavity, reported in the Science Advances journal, was revealed by ice-penetrating radar in NASA’s Operation IceBridge — an airborne campaign beginning in 2010 that studies connections between the polar regions and the global climate.

Thwaites Glacier is currently responsible for approximately 4 per cent of global sea level rise.

It holds enough ice to raise the world’s oceans a little over 2 feet and backstops neighbouring glaciers that would raise sea levels to an additional 8 feet if all the ice were lost.

Antarctica
Antarctica melting away at alarming rate: Study. Flickr

Thwaites is one of the hardest places to reach on Earth, but it is about to become better known than ever before.

The huge cavity was under the main trunk of the glacier on its western side – the side farther from the West Antarctic Peninsula.

In this region, as the tide rises and falls, the grounding line retreats and advances across a zone of about 3 to 5 km. The glacier has been coming unstuck from a ridge in the bedrock at a steady rate of about 0.6 to 0.8 km a year since 1992.

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Despite this stable rate of grounding-line retreat, the melting rate on this side of the glacier is extremely high.

These results highlighted that ice-ocean interactions were more complex than previously understood. (VOA)