How Volcanoes Can Save Life, Too

Study suggests they protected Antarctic bugs and plants during ice ages
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 11, 2014 7:08 PM CDT
A Jan. 14 photo of Mount Sinabung spewing lava in Indonesia. Scientists think volcanoes in Antarctica provided a refuge for plants during ice ages.   (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

(Newser) – Volcanoes are usually in the news for their destructive power, but a new study suggests they've got some protective power to boast of as well. Scientists think that bugs and plants have survived Antarctica's ice ages only because they found warmth near live volcanoes, reports AFP. They did so either in underground caves formed in the ice or by camping out on ground warmed by geothermal heat, explains LiveScience. "Volcanic steam can melt large ice caves under the glaciers, and it can be tens of degrees warmer in there than outside," says a lead researcher from the Australian National University. "Caves and warm steam fields would have been great places for species to hang out during ice ages."

The finding—based in part on the discovery that more mosses, lichens, and small bugs are found near volcanoes today—helps answer a question that has vexed Antarctic researchers: How did species that have been in the region for millions of years manage to survive those ice ages? Now it seems they waited them out in relative warmth before expanding their range again. The researchers say their discovery likely holds true outside Antarctica as well, notes Nature World News. (If you prefer volcanoes of the destructive variety, click to read about this doozy of 125 million years ago.)

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