Scientists discovered unidentified bubbling beneath the ice of West Antarctica

By | Science & Technology
Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video/ Flickr

The newly discovered volcano is “smoldering” under a kilometer of ice on Marie Byrd Land in West Antarctica. Scientists claim it will “definitely” erupt. The unnamed volcano is located about 48 km away from the Mount Sidley, which is the last crater in the region that is above the surface of the ice.

The scientists were hardly expecting to make such a great discovery and were analyzing the seismic situation in the area of the West Antarctica for different purposes. The primary goal of the research, led by professor of Earth and Planetary Science at Washington University in St. Louis, was to reconstruct Antarctica’s climate history.

In order to do so, in January 2010, a team of scientists set up two crossing lines of seismographs across Marie Byrd Land. It had been the first case ever when the researchers could monitor areas beneath the surface all year round, despite the weather conditions in the region.The seismographs were helping to create an image of the ice and rock beneath the surface.

One of the scientists, Amanda Lough, said in the interview to International Business Times: “I started seeing events that kept occurring at the same location, which was odd. Then I realised they were close to some mountains”. However it was surprising that they were right on top of them. “My first thought was, ‘Okay, maybe it’s just coincidence,’ she adds. However then the group of researchers realized that these mountains were volcanoes.

The scientists noticed that the signs of seismic activity took place below the surface, approximately between 25 and 40km. Thus, they concluded that the events were caused by Deep Long Period (PDL). The official report on Nature Geoscience says: “Located at 1,400 m depth, the ash layer is  about 8,000 years old and was probably sourced from the nearby Mount Waesche volcano.”

Most of the hills in Antarctica are unlikely to be igneous, however the area of Marie Byrd Land is full of volcanoes. One of the hypothesis’ scientists are implying is that East and West Antarctica are slowly splitting apart. Time will tell  if the theory is applicable to this particular case, however the researchers claim that there must be a hot spot in the mantle that produces magma under the surface.

Scientists are very positive that the eruption of a newly discovered under-ice volcano will take place in the nearest future. The radar researchers used to detect the seismic activity showed that a mountain beneath the ice erupted in the past. To break through a kilometer of ice the outburst would have to be enormous with a release of 1000 times more energy than a regular eruption. The researchers claim that if such an event happens it is more likely to melt a large amount of ice, increasing the ice-mass decrease in the region. It would create huge reservoirs of water under the ice, creating undersurface lakes.

The magnificent finding might challenge the scientists worldwide to rethink the theory of global warming as unexpected ice meltdown caused by an under-surface breakout might significantly accelerate the process.

How will the discovery of an under-ice volcano change the theory of global warming?


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