91 volcanoes found under ice sheet in Antarctica. But are they active?

The mountains which are thought to form the planet's largest range of peaks were discovered under Antarctic ice caps

The volcanoes covered in ice stand almost 3 miles along West Antarctica, possibly making the region denser than east Africa where Mount Kilimanjaro and other masses reside, Edinburgh University researchers told the Guardian.

In a discovery that sounds like the premise for an environmental disaster movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, researchers say they've identified 91 previously unknown volcanoes sitting underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Van Wyk de Vries said in a statement, "Antarctica remains among the least studied areas of the globe, and as a young scientist I was excited to learn about something new and not well understood. We have nearly trebled the number of volcanoes known to exist in west Antarctica", Robert Bingham, from University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian. If one erupts, it could further destabilize some of the region's ice sheets, which have already been affected by global warming.

University of Edinburgh researchers remotely surveyed the underside of the ice sheet for hidden peaks of basalt rock, like those of other volcanoes in the region whose tips push above the ice.

The results were then compared with satellite and database records and geological information from other aerial surveys.

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The results do not make any conclusions regarding the activity level of the volcanoes, but it can contribute towards ongoing research regarding seismic monitoring in the region. And even inactive volcanoes can increase heat flux to the subglacial interface, once again leading to increased melting and a faster rate at which the melting ice flows into the sea.

The newly discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 metres. The peaks are concentrated in a region known as the West Antarctic Rift System, spanning 3,500 kilometres from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf to the Antarctic Peninsula.

The study led to the discovery of 178 cone-shaped structures in a region that researchers named the West Antarctic Rift System (WARS). Researchers determined 138 of those to be volcanoes, with 91 undiscovered until now. "Essentially, we were looking for evidence of volcanic cones sticking up into the ice", Bingham said.

While the area has one of the world's most extensive regions of stretched continental crust, according to project's researchers, ice coverings have made it hard to fully map the extent of volcanic activity in the area. He suggested to the school's geologists that a more rigorous survey be conducted to confirm his initial findings, and they agreed. The outflow of melt water into the ocean will raise sea level. A situation that must be closely monitored, said Bingham.

So far, the Edinburgh University study has not found any active volcanoes under Antarctica.

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