Fire Below the Ice
ScienceNOW Daily News, Jan. 22, 2008
Researchers have found evidence that a previously undiscovered active volcano, which last erupted about 2300 years ago, could be heating a portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, causing enough melting to nudge the sheet toward the sea. The find is bad news for scientists already worried about the stability of the giant ice sheet as global temperatures climb.
For several decades, researchers have used aerial radar to compile data on the structure and movement of
Although several active volcanoes rise above the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, Corr and BAS colleague David Vaughn were still unprepared for what they found: the first evidence of recent volcanic activity under the ice. Analyzing radar data from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet for 2004 and 2005, they found something that had eluded previous researchers: an elliptical zone of dissolved sulfur dioxide about as large as the state of
Further analysis, Corr and Vaughn reported online 20 January in Nature Geoscience, revealed that the "dirty" ice was the result of a major volcanic eruption about 325 B.C.E.--probably the biggest volcanic event in
Furthermore, the volcano's residual heat might still be warming the underside of the ice sheet and speeding up its march toward the ocean, Corr says. And if the volcano does erupt again, much of the sheet could slide into the ocean, adding to already-rising sea levels fueled by global warming. The effect would be even more pronounced if a new eruption occurs, he adds.
The research confirms that there are indeed active volcanoes under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, says geophysicist Donald Blankenship of the