Nature Science

Shocking: Explosive Potential of Antarctica’s Hidden Volcanoes

Antarctica, renowned for its vast icy landscapes, harbors a secret beneath its frozen surface: a network of volcanoes. While its icy visage captivates many, what lies beneath are dozens of volcanoes, making it one of Earth’s most significant volcanic regions. A 2017 study in the Geological Society revealed a staggering 138 volcanoes, with 91 of them newly discovered, nestled under the colossal western ice sheet.

The question of whether Antarctica’s volcanoes could erupt presents both simplicity and complexity to geologists. Despite their relatively young age in geological terms, distinguishing their volcanic activity remains a challenge. Only two of Antarctica’s volcanoes are currently active: Deception Island and Mount Erebus. The latter, standing as the continent’s tallest peak at 12,448 feet, boasts the title of the world’s southernmost active volcano.

Mount Erebus has been a site of continuous eruptions since at least 1972, characterized by gas and steam plumes and sporadic rock ejections. Its rare lava lake, persistently molten due to specific conditions, adds to its allure. Meanwhile, Deception Island, with its caldera last erupting in 1970, remains under close observation for volcanic activity.

Antarctica’s volcanic activity extends beyond these two, with fumaroles dotting the landscape. These vents release gases and vapors, sometimes forming fumarolic ice towers reaching heights of 10 feet. Despite continuous monitoring efforts, predicting eruptions remains challenging, given the limited number of monitoring instruments in place.

Researchers face logistical hurdles in maintaining monitoring networks in Antarctica’s harsh conditions. The need for rugged, enduring instruments capable of surviving polar nights adds to the complexity. As scientists grapple with these challenges, the mysteries and potential hazards of Antarctica’s volcanic realm continue to intrigue and demand exploration.

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