The escalating problem of global climate change has been affecting the entire planet, and the antarctic is no exception. Rising temperatures have caused ice to melt, and ice bergs weighing a trillion tons have broken off of the main antarctic continent as a result. This, however, is not the only thing about which we should be concerned. The University of Edinburgh announced this past Monday that researchers had discovered 91 new volcanoes located under western Antarctica.
Photo: National Geographic
The lead researcher Max Van Wyk de Vries said that the volcanoes would probably not melt the entire ice sheet, but the continuing melting of the ice increases the chances that there will be a volcanic eruption. Melting ice destabilizes the volcanoes, which makes it more likely that they will erupt, an event that would cause the melting of even more ice. If this vicious cycle were to take place, then this would be one of the worst possible outcomes for Antarctica.
These volcanoes are so large that if the antarctic ice suddenly disappeared, they would stick out of the water. Some would even reach a height of four kilometers above sea level. The discovery of so many previously unknown volcanoes makes scientists wonder if there are even more that we simply have not found yet. According to The Washington Post, lead researcher de Vries says that “that’s almost certainly the case.” It is also unknown whether or not these volcanoes will erupt. Scientists know that such an event would not be unprecedented.
Iceland used to be covered completely by glaciers on the surface. When temperatures increased and it thawed around 10,000 years ago, the land that had been below the ice actually rose and many of the previously covered volcanoes erupted. With global temperatures rising in the present day, scientists wonder if the same thing could happen in Antarctica. The rapid melting of ice all around the world certainly suggests that it is a possibility worth pondering. Nonetheless, Antarctica has been doing rather well when it comes to melting compared to other parts of the world. Even though we know that there has been antarctic melting, it has not yet reached the point of instability. This does not mean, however, that it could not reach this point in the future, especially if global warming continues unimpeded.
We know that it would take a lot to melt Antarctica. Even the eruption of one buried volcano would not be enough to cause significant melting. However, if enough lava is spewed out that warm ocean water gets in between glaciers, then the overall antarctic melting would accelerate, and that would be greater cause for alarm. Even though we have not reached this critical point yet, it is important to be aware of the possibility and do whatever we can to minimize damage. While controlling forces in nature is hardly a simple process, knowing more about them allows us to better predict when and how they might act and what the consequences might be when they do.