A hidden threat is found under the ice of Antarctica: what catastrophe should mankind prepare for

Yulia PoteriankoLife
Simultaneous eruption of Antarctic volcanoes could wipe out humanity

Last spring, Heard Island, just 1,500 kilometers from Antarctica, surprised scientists with the eruption of the Big Ben volcano. And made them think about the potential danger to mankind.

According to the Express, there are about 100 volcanoes on the icy continent. They are hidden under the ice at a depth of about 2 kilometers. Scientists do not see now a direct threat from one of the largest volcanic regions of the world. But in the future it could become the cause of a real catastrophe.

Antarctica's volcanic region is probably even larger than the powerful volcanic ridge of East Africa, which was once considered the place with the highest concentration of these objects in the world. But now only two Antarctic volcanoes are active - Mount Erebus and Deception Island. Both are unique in their geologic structure and different from many found around the world.

John Smellie, professor of volcanology at the University of Leicester, has previously suggested that any activity from these volcanoes could result in large amounts of water melting. It would slowly drain into the ocean and globally raise its level. "Because the West Antarctic ice sheet is wet rather than frozen to its bed - imagine an ice cube on your kitchen countertop - the meltwater will act as a lubricant and could make the ice above it slip and move faster," he warned in his paper .

But Smellie also noted that these same volcanoes can also stabilize the ice by resisting it. "Imagine that same ice cube clinging to a block-shaped object," the scientist continued.

He noted that a single eruption would not have a strong impact. Even a large volcano will give a meager amount of melt water. But if several volcanoes located near or under any of the known "ice streams" of West Antarctica start erupting, it could have very serious consequences.

According to scientists, about 80 percent of the world's freshwater reserves are in Antarctica, and if it melts, global sea levels would rise by about 60 meters. In this case, the Earth would become uninhabitable for human life.

Professor Smellie said an eruption beneath the ice could accelerate this process, "Ice streams are rivers of ice that flow much faster than their surroundings. They are the areas through which most of Antarctica's ice is delivered to the ocean, and so fluctuations in their speed can affect sea level," he warned.

If volcanoes give "lubrication" to these flows, huge amounts of thick West Antarctica's inland ice could quickly end up in the ocean, causing sea levels to rise.

Smellie suggested that something like this could have happened about 2,000 years ago with a small volcano in the Hudson Mountains, which lie beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet. If something similar were to happen there today, it would likely accelerate the melting of the nearby Pine Island Glacier. "Most dramatically, a large series of eruptions could destabilize many other subglacial volcanoes," the scientist added.

As volcanoes cool and crystallize, their magma pockets are pressurized, and the weight of the rocks above the pockets prevents the violent release of volcanic gases during an eruption. Several kilometers of ice are involved. "As this ice becomes much thinner, the decrease in pressure can trigger an eruption. More eruptions and melting of the ice will mean that more meltwater will follow under the ice flows," described the danger Smellie.

Earlier OBOZREVATEL told, what mystery hide in themselves bloody waterfalls of Antarctica.

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