In one of the biggest discoveries, scientists have unearthed a massive system of volcanoes - one that's comparable to east Africa's densest volcanic ridge - beneath the ice sheet of West Antarctica.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences has revealed that West Antarctic Rift System (WARS) is home to one of the largest volcanic ranges on Earth, with over 100 volcanoes. Scientists already knew about some 47 volcanoes in the area, but the latest discovery has added 91 more candidates, taking the total count to 138 on the list.
Ranging from 100m to 3,850m in height, these volcanoes were discovered using a digital elevation model known as Bedmap 2. As it's impossible to study signs of volcanic systems under Antartica's ice-laden terrain, geologists used Bemap 2 to survey the underside of the ice sheet for hidden cone-shaped peaks of basalt rock. The system created a surface elevation model of cones using radar imaging, which was then cross-referenced with aerial and satellite imagery to identify volcanic structures.
To be precise, researchers found as many as 178 cones, of which 91 were deemed to be previously undiscovered volcanic structures. The study, authored by authors Maximillian Van Wyk De Vries, Robert G Bingham and Andrew Hein, suggests the density of these volcanoes is approximately one volcano per 4,800 square miles, which makes WARS one of the world's largest volcanic regions.
"After examining existing data on West Antarctica, I began discovering traces of volcanism. Naturally, I looked into it further, which led to this discovery of almost 100 volcanoes under the ice sheet," Van Wyk said after the discovery.
The results do not indicate whether these newly-discovered volcanoes are active, but scientists plan to use this data to determine that in future studies. They also believe "understanding of volcanic activity could shed light on their impact on Antarctica's ice in the past, present, and future, and on other rift systems around the world".