Scientists unearth 91 volcanoes under Antarctic ice sheet

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Antarctica: A team of scientists unearthed a volcanic region previously hidden under Antarctic ice sheets, with the geologist who led the team warning of destabilizing consequences.

Edinburgh University researchers uncovered almost 100 volcanoes – with the highest almost as tall as Switzerland’s 3,970-metre Eiger.

Geologists think the region, which sits two kilometres below ice in west Antarctica, will dwarf east Africa’s volcanic ridge, which is rated as the world’s densest concentration of volcanoes.

Glacier expert Robert Bingham, who helped author the paper, warned The Guardian the range could have worrying consequences.

“If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilize west Antarctica’s ice sheets. Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea. “The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”

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

Significant warming caused by climate change in west Antarctica has already affected its ice sheets. If they reduce significantly, this could release pressure on volcanoes lying below. This would lead to eruptions that could further destabilize ice sheets and enhance sea level rises.

“It is something we will have to watch closely.”

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