Active Volcano Discovered Beneath Antarctic Ice


An active volcano beneath the Western Antarctic ice sheet has been discovered by Doug Wiens, professor of earth and planetary science at Washington University in Saint Louis, and doctoral student Amanda Lough.

The discovery was made when the researchers were working in a mountainous area of Marie Byrd Land in western Antarctica. In January 2010, the team placed seismographs across the area to measure the ice sheet to understand Antarctica's climate history. Seismographs were set up with the goal of taking images of the ice and rock deep within West Antarctica.

They observed a series of low-magnitude earthquakes between January 2010 and March 2011 and they discovered the formation of a volcano a kilometer beneath the ice.

 "I started seeing events that kept occurring at the same location, which was odd. Then I realized they were close to some mountains-but not right on top of them," Lough, a seismology graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement. "But then I looked more closely and realized that the mountains were actually volcanoes and there was an age progression to the range. The volcanoes closest to the seismic events were the youngest ones."

Scientists found that the seismic events occurred at depths of 15 miles to 25 miles below the surface, close to the boundary between the earth's crust and mantle. And ice quakes, glacial processes or tectonic activities, are the potential causes of the tremors.

The seismic events were similar to those that precede volcanic eruptions. The characteristics and depth of the events matched with those found in volcanic areas of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, the Pacific Northest, Hawaii and Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, LA Times reports.

The researchers said that the newly discovered volcano will certainly erupt in the future; pushing large amounts of melted ice into the sea, further increasing the already rising global sea levels.

Lough is unsure about the exact time period of eruption, "but it is quite likely" to occur. "At some point, it is going to erupt. Is it going to erupt in any of our lifetimes? That is not something that we can pinpoint," NBC news reports.

But whenever the eruption occurs "there would be an increase in melting around the area. ... You would add water to the system beneath the ice sheet ... and that could cause that ice stream to speed up."

The study has been published online Sunday in Nature Geoscience.

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