We’re used to the ocean depths holding a significant number of surprises, but not all of us stop to think about what might be lurking under the thick sheet of ice covering real estate in the Antarctic.
One recent revelation: volcanoes. A lot of them.
Research recently published in Geological Society indicates that 91 newly discovered volcanoes are buried in West Antarctica. Scientists had already identified 47, so the sharp uptick makes for one of the largest concentrations of the formations in the world. The volcanoes were found in the West Antarctic Rift System, a 2200-mile long stretch housing volcanoes as small as 326 feet to as large as 12,600 feet—all completely encased under the ice.
The discovery was unearthed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, where a third-year student suggested the study after examining radar maps of the region and finding evidence of volcanism. The underside of the ice was surveyed for basalt rock; radar detected the volcanoes' sizes and locations.The finding is significant, as the thick ice sheet makes spotting and identifying geological formations difficult.
It’s not currently known which of these volcanoes, if any, might be active or whether they could exacerbate the effects of climate change in the area by melting the underside of the ice sheet, causing it to become unstable. For that reason, finding out their status is considered urgent. Glacier expert Robert Bingham told The Guardian that the potential for eruption is "something we need to determine as quickly as possible."