Live Volcano Found Under Antarctic Ice

It could send yet more ice into ocean if it blows its top
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 18, 2013 12:19 AM CST
Updated Nov 18, 2013 2:22 AM CST
The volcano is believed to be buried deep under ice in Marie Byrd Land.   (Michael Studinger/NASA)

(Newser) – What happens when a huge volcanic eruption happens under a massive sheet of ice? A new discovery means scientists may soon get a chance to find out. Researchers investigating swarms of small earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 in western Antarctica believe they have spotted an active volcano rumbling under almost a mile of ice, NBC News reports. It's unlikely an eruption would have the power to punch through the ice, but scientists fear such an event could melt enough ice to accelerate the flow of Antarctica's ice sheet into the sea, further raising sea levels worldwide.

When the team investigated a group of mountains near the quakes, "we realized they are actually a chain of volcanoes that date younger as they go south and the earthquakes were south of the volcanoes," says the lead researcher, who also found a layer of ash from an eruption 8,000 years ago in the ice near the recent tremors. There's no way to know when the unnamed volcano will erupt again, but "it can suddenly pop, and that would have a huge effect," a British Antarctic Survey expert tells the New Scientist; heat from its magma may already be loosening the ice. (Click to read about another volcanic discovery—this one from the year 1257.)

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