Researchers have uncovered what seems to be the largest volcanic region on earth, revealing an invisible network of almost 100 unknown volcanoes lying hidden beneath the Antarctic ice sheet.
A remote survey of the so called West Antarctic Rift System revealed 138 volcanoes in total – 91 of which had never been detected before, and according to scientists, it is imperative we find out if any of these hidden peaks remain active.
"The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible," geoscientist Robert Bingham from the University of Edinburgh in the UK told The Guardian.
"Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea."
Binghams' team used ice-sheet bed-elevation data sourced from a database called Bedmap 2, to study the rift system lying underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
The researchers were looking for conical edifices protruding upwards into the ice across West Antarctica something like what we see when topside volcanoes extend out of earth's surface.
These volcano peaks cannot be seen physically, when they are hidden underground, but these can be detected with ice-penetrating radar signals.
The study led to the discovery of 178 cone-shaped structures in a region that researchers named the West Antarctic Rift System (WARS). Of those structures, researchers found that 138 are likely volcanoes, on the basis of their confidence criteria.
The identified volcanoes range from 328 feet (100 meters) to just over 12600 feet (3850 meters) in height, with cones that ranging from about two miles to just under 40 miles in diameter.
Of those volcanoes, 91 had not been identified earlier, and the study's authors explain that the density of the volcanoes in the WARS is approximately one volcano per 4800 square miles.