Earth’s largest volcanic region found in West Antarctica
The largest volcanic region on Earth with nearly 100 volcanoes has been discovered two km below the surface of the vast ice sheet in west Antarctica. The discovery has been made by researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Britain, which found a staggering 91 previously undiscovered volcanoes. It adds to the 47 other volcanoes that had been discovered over the previous century while exploring the region.
The newly-discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 m with the highest volcano as tall as Switzerland’s Eiger mountain which is 3,970 meter high. These active peaks are concentrated in a region known as the west Antarctic rift system -- which stretches 3,500 km from Antarctica's Ross ice shelf to the Antarctic peninsula.
According to geologists, this huge region is likely to dwarf east Africa's volcanic ridge -- currently rated as the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.However, the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, glacier expert Robert Bingham was quoted as saying to the Guardian.
"If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica's ice sheets," Bingham warned.
"Anything that causes the melting of ice, which an eruption certainly would, is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea," he said.
"The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible," he added.
The Edinburgh volcano survey, reported in the Geological Society's special publications series, involved studying the underside of the west Antarctica ice sheet for hidden peaks of basalt rock similar to those produced by the region's other volcanoes.
Presently, volcanism is seen in regions, including Iceland and Alaska, that have recently lost their glacier covering. The same could happen in west Antarctica, where significant warming in the region caused by climate change has begun to affect its ice sheets.
If the ice cap reduced significantly, it can release pressure on the volcanoes that lie below. This can cause eruptions that can put the stability of ice sheets at the stake. It can lead to rise in the sea level which s already affecting our oceans.
(With IANS Inputs)
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