Antarctic Iceberg

An Active Volcano Under An Ice Sheet?

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Recently I wrote an article about volcanoes existing not only here on earth but also on Mars. Well, what most of us don’t know is that there are many volcanoes under the ice in Antarctica. In fact scientists discovered more than 91 volcanoes under the ice. Are all of these volcanoes extinct or at least dormant? The answer is a resounding no.

Antarctic Glacier
Antarctic Glacier | Photo by Independence.co.uk

The title of an article from June 30, 2018 in The Independent (independent.co.uk) peaked my interest. It is “Active volcano discovered beneath Antarctic ice sheet could be contributing to rapidly melting glacier.”  To give a simplistic summary of the subject the heat from this active under-sea volcano could be significantly increasing the melting of the Antarctic ice.

In 2014 a team scientists discovered the before undiscovered active volcano. Quoting the article: ” Chemical data from water samples revealed an active source of of volcanic heat beneath the Pine Island Glacier which is the fastest melting glacier in the region. Though there have been no eruptions in Antarctica for more than 2,000 years, the heat from this hidden volcano could be contributing to this rapid decline.”

Volcano Under Ice
Volcano Under Ice Shelf | Image by Daily Motion

The original research paper the article used for its information was published in Nature Communications on Nature.com. It was submitted by Brice Loose, Albert C. Naveira, Peter Schlosser, William J. Jenkins, David Vaughan and Karen J. Heywood. The followings a portion of the abstract for their research project: “Tectonig landforms reveal that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) lies atop a major volcanic rift system. However, identifying subglacial vulcanism is challenging. Here we show geochemical evidence of a volcanic heat source upstream of the fast-melting Pine Island Ice Shelf, documented by seawater helium isotope ratios at the front of the Ice Shelf cavity. The localization of mantle helium to glacial meltwater reveals that volcanic heat induces melt beneath the grounded glacier and feeds the subglacial hydrological network crossing the groundling line. “Our finding of a substantial volcanic heat source beneath a major WAIS glacier highlights the need to understand subglacial volcanism, its hydrologic interaction with the marine margins, and its potential role in the future stability of the WAIS.”

Antarctic Iceberg
Antarctic Iceberg | Photo by independence.co.uk

Back to the article in The Independent, quoting: “The discovery of volcanoes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet means that there is an additional source of heat to melt the ice, lubricate its passage toward the sea, and add to the melting from warm ocean waters,” said Professor Karen Heywood of the University of East Anglia, who was the expedition’s chief scientist.”

It seems there is a bit of controversy here since a glaciologist at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Robert Bingham, who has discovered dozens of Antarctic volcanoes, said the the melting from volcanic activity was probably not a major contributor to the loss of ice that makes up the shelf. More research needs to be done to see if there are other instances of volcanic heat causing melting from underneath the ice shelf. If there were many more, that might mean a much greater impact on the melting process than originally thought.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: tim.chuey@eugenedailynews.com.