World’s Largest Volcanoes Are Hidden Beneath Antarctica Ice Sheet – Are They Still Active?

Antarctica remains among the least studied regions on our planet. There is still so much we don’t know about this relatively unexplored continent that holes clues to the past, present and future.

Not long ago, researchers reported they have discovered giant landforms as tall as the Eiffel Tower beneath Antarctica.

Now scientists have announced world’s largest volcanoes are hidden beneath West Antarctica’s vast ice sheet. Almost 100 new volcanoes have been detected and the largest one is as tall as the Eiger in Switzerland (13,025ft/3,970m).

Geologists and ice experts say the range has many similarities to East Africa’s volcanic ridge, which is currently acknowledged to be the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.

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

Max Van Wyk de Vries, a student at the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who conceived the study, said: “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. After examining existing data on West Antarctica, I began discovering traces of volcanism. Naturally I looked into it further, which led to this discovery of almost 100 volcanoes under the ice sheet.”

Hidden beneath the thick ice there are 91 previously unknown volcanoes, ranging in height from 100 to 3850 metres. The peaks are concentrated in a region known as the West Antarctic Rift System, spanning 3,500 kilometres from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Whether the volcanoes are active or not is currently unknown, but researchers say that volcanic activity may increase if Antarctica’s ice thins, which is likely in a warming climate.

“It is fascinating to uncover an extensive range of volcanoes in this relatively unexplored continent. Better understanding of volcanic activity could shed light on their impact on Antarctica’s ice in the past, present and future, and on other rift systems around the world,” Dr. Robert Bingham, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences said.

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