Almost 100 volcanoes discovered under Antarctica

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Unfortunately, the new results don't indicate which of these volcanoes might be active, or have the potential to erupt, but this new study should inspire further research and seismic monitoring in the area.

Scientists have uncovered nearly 100 volcanoes two kilometres below the surface of the vast Antarctic ice sheet, making it the largest volcanic region on Earth.

Over the past century, explorers have reported sightings of their tips, which reach above the ice.

But how many lie below the ice?

The study, which is the first of its kind, was proposed by Max van Wyk de Vries, a third-year student at the University of Edinburgh. They compared the data they gathered to satellite and database records, along with geological information from aerial surveys.

Van Wyk de Vries, the undergraduate whose theory kicked off the deep look into the ice, said curiosity fueled his work.

Ninety-one volcanoes ranging in height from 100m to 3,850m have been found through a remote survey in an area known as West Antarctic Rift System.

"The largely uneroded nature of the cones suggest that many may be of Pleistocene age or younger, which supports the argument that the rift remains active today", they write, adding that the concentration of volcanoes could mean major changes to come.

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The West Antarctic Rift is bounded by the Transantarctic Mountains, stopping just shy of the peninsula and is largely covered by the Ross Ice Shelf.

"We were amazed", Bingham said.

"I think it is very likely this region will turn out to be the densest region of volcanoes in the world, greater even than east Africa, where mounts Nyiragongo, Kilimanjaro, Longonot and all the other active volcanoes are concentrated".

The discovery is particularly important because the activity of these volcanoes could have crucial implications for the rest of the planet.

The volcanoes can lead to basal melting, which can impact the movement of receding ice sheets by adding more water into the mix.

Dr Bingham's fear is that the Antarctic ocean's meltwater outflows will cause sea levels to rise.

Further study is needed to determine whether the volcanoes are active. Researchers found 178 cone-structures beneath the ice in West Antarctica, with 138 determined to be volcanoes and 91 that were recently identified, the study says. Those areas include Iceland and Alaska.

Scientists aren't entirely sure what happens when under-ice volcanoes erupt, but these events could cause underground magma and fluids to force open new paths and fracture rock, according to the Washington University researchers. A situation that must be closely monitored, said Bingham.

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