This discovery adds more fuel to the fire of why climate change must be taken as a serious threat.
Scientists have uncovered the largest volcanic region on Earth – two kilometres below the surface of the vast ice sheet that covers west Antarctica.
The project, by Edinburgh University researchers, has revealed almost 100 volcanoes – with the highest as tall as the Eiger, which stands at almost 4,000 metres in Switzerland.
Geologists say this huge region is likely to dwarf that of east Africa’s volcanic ridge, currently rated the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.
And the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, they have warned. “If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” said glacier expert Robert Bingham, one of the paper’s authors. “Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea.
“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible.”
However, he pointed to one alarming trend: “The most volcanism that is going in the world at present is in regions that have only recently lost their glacier covering – after the end of the last ice age. These places include Iceland and Alaska.
“Theory suggests that this is occurring because, without ice sheets on top of them, there is a release of pressure on the regions’ volcanoes and they become more active.”
And this could happen in west Antarctica, where significant warming in the region caused by climate change has begun to affect its ice sheets. If they are reduced significantly, this could release pressure on the volcanoes that lie below and lead to eruptions that could further destabilise the ice sheets and enhance sea level rises that are already affecting our oceans.