Just when you thought you only had to worry about volcanoes under the West Antarctica ice sheets, scientists had to go and discover more volcanoes off Antarctica. The British Antarctica Survey (BAS) recently released its finding of undersea volcanoes near the South Sandwich Islands in the Southern Ocean.
The volcanoes were discovered during research cruises through the use of ship-borne seismic mapping of the seafloor. The research cruises discovered 12 undersea volcanoes, along with craters left by collapsing volcanoes and 7 volcanoes visible above the sea. The volcanoes above the sea are active and some are up to 3,000 meters tall.
Unlike the volcanoes under the West Antarctica ice sheets, the newly discovered volcanoes do not pose much threat to melting the ice and raising sea levels. “They are about 700 miles from the Antarctica ice sheets,” said Philip Leats, a geologist volcanologist with the BAS. “At most, they might produce ash that could land on Antarctica to accelerate melting. They would shoot a lot of ash into the sea, and the ash clouds might break above the water surface to produce ash plumes in the atmosphere.”
Ash from the South Sandwich volcanoes was discovered in Antarctica ice cores, and in 1962, British naval vessels found large patches of floating pumice from an eruption, so the volcanoes are not a surprising discovery. Still, the finding is important for studying how undersea volcanoes can collapse and cause tsunamis. “This new volcanic chain has clearly generated tsunamis in the past and it is likely to continue to do so in the future,” said Leat. “There is so much that we don’t understand about volcanic activity beneath the sea – it’s likely that volcanoes are erupting or collapsing all the time.”
So, even without being under the West Antarctica ice sheets, the volcanoes still have deadly potential undersea. They also have the potential for life though. The volcanoes warm the waters around them, creating a habitat for a host of species. There’s something to feel good about, right?