Surprise! There's an active volcano under Antarctic ice


Above: Mt Erebus, which was previously the only active volcano in Antarctica

picture by Sean Brocklesby

It seems that we still don’t know everything there is to know about our earth-climate system. Take this for example. Scientists have just now discovered an active volcano under the Antarctic ice that “creates melt-water that lubricates the base of the ice sheet and increases the flow towards the sea”.

Yet many claim the CO2 is the driver for any melting of the Antarctic ice sheet. I wonder how this will figure into that argument?

Larsen Ice Shelves A and B, by the way, sit astride a chain of volcanic vent islands known as the Seal Nunataks, which may figure into melting and breakups like this and this. (h/t Alan)

In fact, there are a LOT of volcanoes in Antarctica as you can see in this image. Notice that many are near the edge of the ice, and there are none in the interior, which may be a lack of discovery of ancient ice buried volcanoes. Most scientific bases are near the sea, rather than inland, for supply and weather tolerance purposes and there are many places in the interior that have yet to be fully explored.

These images showing known Antarctic volcanoes and satellite measured temperature trends from 1992-2004 below tends to back up the idea that where there is volcanic activity, temperatures have been rising.


Volcanic Map          Temperature Trends

Here is a link and excerpt of the story:

The first evidence of a volcanic eruption from beneath Antarctica’s ice sheet has been discovered by members of the British Antarctic Survey.

The volcano on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet began erupting some 2,000 years ago and remains active to this day. Using airborne ice-sounding radar, scientists discovered a layer of ash produced by a ‘subglacial’ volcano. It extends across an area larger than Wales. The volcano is located beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet in the Hudson Mountains at latitude 74.6°South, longitude 97°West.


The subglacial volcano has a ‘volcanic explosion index’ of around 3-4. Heat from the volcano creates melt-water that lubricates the base of the ice sheet and increases the flow towards the sea. Pine Island Glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is showing rapid change and BAS scientists are part of an international research effort to understand this change.

Lead author Hugh Corr of the BAS says, “The discovery of a ‘subglacial’ volcanic eruption from beneath the Antarctic ice sheet is unique in itself. But our techniques also allow us to put a date on the eruption, determine how powerful it was and map out the area where ash fell. We believe this was the biggest eruption in Antarctica during the last 10,000 years. It blew a substantial hole in the ice sheet, and generated a plume of ash and gas that rose around 12 km into air.”

The discovery is another vital piece of evidence that will help determine the future of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and refine predictions of future sea-level rise. Glaciers are like massive rivers of ice that flow towards the coast and discharge icebergs into the sea.

Here is a related story: Lakes Beneath Antarctic Ice Sheets Found To Initiate And Sustain Flow Of Ice To Ocean

h/t ScienceDaily

46 thoughts on “Surprise! There's an active volcano under Antarctic ice

  1. A couple of weeks back, I caught the report of a “hot spot” under Northeastern Greenland.
    But a regular Westie Hell’s Kitchen?
    Now what we want to know is how active it’s been recently and how and if it correlates with the Western Antarctic melt in general. This is particularly relevant, as the East End has been putting on weight in recent years.

  2. Icelanders have a name for it, “jokulhlaups”.
    REPLY: Maybe not, “Jökulhlaups” appears to be a glacial meltwater flood, rather than a volcano under the ice. Perhaps you meant a “Tuya” ?
    [Reply #2: He’s an English Major, not an Icelandic Major. ☺ — mod.]

  3. That area is essentially an extension of Patagonia. There is an active subduction zone creating the Peninsula, which is an extension of the Andes.

  4. That area is essentially an extension of Patagonia. There is an active subduction zone creating the Peninsula, which is an extension of the Andes.

    Oh there you go with your sciency thing again. We’ll have none of that! 😉

  5. I’m still trying to figure out why the Larsen A and B ice shelves are such a big deal if they “fell off”. They’re pretty tiny in the bigger scheme of things.

  6. I knew it all along. 😉
    Jeff, the concern (irrational and wrong) was that they were representative of some general “melt” that was going to drown us. Which I say is wrong becuase Antarctica’s net contribution is expected to be negative, and most sea level rise comes from thermal expansion, not melting ice.

  7. I am sure the media is just getting ready to inform the world in that critically accaimed series on the errors of AIT.
    Waiting with bated breath.

  8. This post reminds me of a line from one of my favorite songs by Vanessa Williams — “Colors Of The Wind”:
    “And if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”
    The question is: how much more about this planet do we not know? Quite a bit, I’d wager.

  9. “The question is: how much more about this planet do we not know? Quite a bit, I’d wager.”
    Erm… Isn’t that a bit like Dilbert being tasked to document every acronym NEVER used?

  10. As we all know volcanic activity is caused by SUV’s and global warming.
    I really wish the media would stop publishing so much proof that global warming is natural until I manage to sell all my carbon credits

  11. RG:
    Oh, yes.
    Although, in some ways it would be a yuk if the Rev’s work caused a panic in the carbon-credit market.
    I can see it now (wavy lines): waves of short selling, market shutdowns, angry demands for investigations, History Channel specials featuring Canal shares and Credit Mobilier, Lawsuits naming “2500 scientists of the IPCC” (all of them furiously denying they ever subscribed to its conclusions in the first place), Gore associates pleading the fifth and/or fleeing the country (again) …
    Well, I can dream, can’t I?

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  13. Mike H., interesting article.

    They detected a sharp jump in Antarctica’s ice loss, from enough ice to raise global sea level by 0.3 millimeters (.01 inches) a year in 1996, to 0.5 millimeters (.02 inches) a year in 2006.

    Yikes! Man the life boats — women and children first. Better sell that beach-front lot in Florida while you still can.

  14. The newest blurb on the Antarctic ice loss. NASA

    Are they kidding? “from .3mm to .5mm” sea level rise? I doubt we even have the ability to measure sea level that accurately.
    And of course “primarily concentrated in West Antarctica’s Pine Island Bay sector” Which isn’t even in the antarctic any more, just happens to be connected to the antarctic peninsula. Yet the press release is for the whole antarctic. Really shoddy science, but great propaganda.

  15. Correction: “Connected to the antarctice peninsula” should read “connected to the antarctic continent”.

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  17. You unclean heretics! Blasphemers! Infidels!
    The earth is a BABY, with a FEVER! When will you get that through your Fascist heads!
    Unless Maurice Strong, George Soros, Hugo Chavez and I institute our Socialits People’s Perfection Plan worldwide, THE EARTH WILL COME TO AN END IN……IN…….IN……UH, YEARS

  18. I watched a program on the arctic and the Eskimo’s were saying that the ice seems to be melting from below.Can you show the same pic on the arctic?

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  21. And I just finished watching a special on the direct TV’s History channel of global warming. And the Arctic and Antarctic melt down.
    I even did a DVR of it Not one word of the volcano.
    Boy what next that they forgot to tell us?? On TV that is.
    I am fairly sure you guys have first hand knowledge of what is going on down there.
    Hope the loss of the Russian camp won’t effect anyone. Something about lack of money.

  22. So how long have the volcanoes been there? Have they suddenly become more active? This is a very simplistic analysis, I don’t think you can claim the volcanoes caused the recent ice loss…
    “The volcano on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet began erupting some 2,000 years ago” this is a misquote too, should read:
    “The volcano on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet erupted 2000 years ago (325BC) and remains active.”
    “It has existed a lot longer than that, and hasn’t erupted since.
    Later the article says “We believe this was the biggest eruption in Antarctica during the last 10,000 years. It blew a substantial hole in the ice sheet, and generated a plume of ash and gas that rose around 12 km into air.”
    So one would assume the volcano had been there longer.
    This part of the article seems to indicate that the volcanism has been there for 25 million years, I would think probably since the opening of the Straits of Magellan.
    “Volcanic eruptions were common during the past 25 million years, and coincided with the great period of climatic deterioration that resulted in the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet. Many of the volcanoes show the effects of interaction with ice. BAS has played a major role in describing these effects and modelling their influences on the resulting volcanic sequences. It is important to describe and understand these interactions in geologically recent times in order to predict future configurations of the ice sheet and its role in the global system.”
    For this to be an ‘impact’ or be a ‘reason’ for ice loss in the Western Antarctic (as distinguished from the Antarctic Peninsula) it would have to have recently increased in activity. And there is no evidence of that.
    The authors even state:
    “However, it cannot explain the more widespread thinning of West Antarctic glaciers that together are contributing nearly 0.2mm per year to sea-level rise. This wider change most probably has its origin in warming ocean waters.”
    Interesting though isn’t it.

  23. To confirm Robert G’s comment (1-23-08), the well respected environmental group, Watching Arctic Climate Kill Our Shores, is indeep preparing to release a report detailing the effect of the increase in the number of large pick-up trucks, SUV’s and motor homes on volcanic activity. “We have confirmed that the extra weight of these vehicles on the Earth’s crust puts increasing pressure on the magma, forcing it up through any available opening, such as a volcano.” –W.A.C.K.O.S.
    And as far as carbon credits… Isn’t that like saying if I kill someone, as long as I have a child it all balances out??

  24. If I wish to determine the temperature of a cooked egg, I would use a probe thermometer. How come when measuring the temperature of a planet, little or no account is taken of core temperature. What is the average core temperature of our planet? Does it fluctuate in sympathy with the surface temperature?

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  27. Oh, gimme a break – Antarctic Ice loss indeed:
    The full Wilkins 6,000 square mile ice shelf is just 0.39% of the current Antarctic ice cover (just 0.1% of the extent last September). A very small piece broke off as an iceberg (37 square miles). Then only a small portion of it around 160 square miles partially disintegrated late this February into early March. That represents just 2.67% of the full Wilkins ice sheet and 0.01% of the total Antarctic icecover (0.003% of its level last September), a little like an icicle falling from a snow and ice cover roof. No big deal (unless you are standing beneath it).
    And this winter is coming on quickly. Satellite images show the ice has already refrozen around the broken pieces and expanded. In fact the ice is returning so fast, it is running an amazing 60% ahead (4.0 vs 2.5 million square km extent) of last year when it set a new record. The ice extent is already approaching the second highest level for extent since the measurements began by satellite in 1979 and just a few days into the Southern Hemisphere fall season and 6 months ahead of the peak. Wilkins like all the others that temporarily broke up will refreeze soon. We are very likely going to exceed last year’s record. Yet the world is left with the false impression Antarctica’s ice sheet is also starting to disappear.

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  29. I never knew such a thing, i thought that only globalwarming waz affecting the ice sheets of the arctic and the antarctic to melt. Volacanoes never came up to my head and now I see that volcanoes cause more effect on the ice sheets melting then global warming.

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  32. Volcanoes can do and have done more to effect climate change than those scientists who are dependent of government money care to admit publicly. The climate changes cyclically all over the world.

  33. Antarctica contain 300,000 cubic km of ice. That is 300,000,000,000,000,000 litres of ice. That is one enormous iceblock.
    Even if the earth temperature suddenly jumped 5 degrees, it would take hundreds of years before there was significant decrease in the amount frozen. So any year to year variation due to natural climate change will swamp any slow warming effect.
    And THAT is without taking into effect the fact that Antarctica in many ways drives its own weather system. Antarctica is totally different from the Arctic. To assume they are the same is like assuming that New York is like LA because “they are both at opposite ends of the country”.
    It’s actually quite complicated guys, and listening to your smart-alec remarks on this topic just shows that you really havent bothered to learn much about the topic before adding your opinions.
    Hint: If you rely on television for your information, you will only ever get an oversimplified version of what is known. Journalists, after all, are experts in explaining what they don’t understand, to an audience that doesn’t understand it either.

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