Scientists Discover Trove of Volcanoes Hidden Beneath Antarctic Ice Sheet

Scientists have identified nearly 100 previously unknown volcanoes in West Antarctica, which, in addition to the 47 already known to exist in the region, makes it one of the largest concentration of volcanoes in the world. New research identifies 91 new volcanoes in a region known as the West Antarctic Rift System.
All of these volcanoes are buried beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, some as deep as two miles. They range in size from 325 to 12,600 feet (100-3,850 metres), the largest being as tall as the Eiger in Switzerland.
The scientists who conducted the study, Max Van Wyk de Vries and Robert Bingham from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh, say this concentration is bigger than East Africa’s volcanic ridge, which would make it the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world, though some geologists say this claim is grossly overstated (more on this in just a bit). It’s not known how many, if any, of the newly-discovered volcanoes are active, but scientists are voicing concerns that an eruption could exacerbate the effects of climate change on the frozen continent.
Max Van Wyk de Vries, a third-year undergrad, got the ball rolling on this discovery after noticing possible traces of volcanism on publicly-available radar maps of Antarctica. He suggested to the school’s geologists that a more rigorous survey be conducted to confirm his initial findings, and they agreed. With the help of Bingham, de Vries remotely surveyed the underside of the ice sheet for hidden peaks of basalt rock, similar to those found atop other volcanoes, and where the tips push just slightly above the ice.
The shape of the land underneath the thick layers of ice were analysed using measurements from ice-penetrating radar; the researchers were on the hunt for cone-like structures extending into the ice sheet. These findings were compared with satellite and database records, along with geological information from aerial surveys.
“Antarctica remains among the least studied areas of the globe, and as a young scientist I was excited to learn about something new and not well understood,” said de Vries in a statement. “After examining existing data on West Antarctica, I began discovering traces of volcanism. Naturally I looked into it further, which led to this discovery of almost 100 volcanoes under the ice sheet.”