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That Antarctic volcano again 22 January 2008

Posted by admin in Antarctica, climate, current research, volcanology.

The new British study arguing that a subglacial volcanic eruption occurred in Antarctica two millennia or so ago and that the volcano responsible may still be active beneath the ice sheet has made a big splash in the world’s media, partly because of the ‘global warming’ aspect. The researchers, David Vaughan and Hugh Corr of the British Antarctic Survey were very careful in what they said about the relationship between subglacial volcanism and the overall melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, as National Geographic reports:

‘The presence of the volcano adds [to] the complexity of an issue that I thought we were getting on top of,’ Vaughan said. Western Antarctica ‘is losing ice to the oceans, and the volcano could be contributing to that effect.’ But it can only be responsible for a fraction of that change, he added, since the volcano only affects the nearby Pine Island Glacier. Global warming is still the main culprit behind the overall loss of ice from western Antarctica, researchers say.

Last month another study suggested that a ‘hot spot’ beneath north-eastern Greenland was contributing to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. It seems unlikely that atmospheric global warming will be toppled from its place as the primary explanatory paradigm for the melting of the world’s ice sheets, but the mechanisms at work are more complex than perhaps has hitherto been suspected. The role of geological heating beneath the polar icecaps is clearly something that has to be investigated in more detail.

A round-up of news stories on the Antarctic eruption is given below.

Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program – summary information for the Hudson Mountains (1900-028)
Antarctica Volcanoes and Volcanics – information from the United States Geological Survey

First evidence of under-ice volcanic eruption in Antarctica – British Antarctic Survey press release, 20 January 2008
Under-ice volcano eruption spewed ice over Antarctica – National Geographic News, 21 January 2008
First evidence of under-ice volcanic eruption in Antarctica – ScienceDaily, 21 January 2008
Scientists find active volcano in AntarcticaNew York Times, 21 January 2008

The Volcanism Blog