Magazine article Geographical

British Antarctic Survey Finds 'Subglacial' Volcanoes and Lakes

Magazine article Geographical

British Antarctic Survey Finds 'Subglacial' Volcanoes and Lakes

Article excerpt

Glaciologists and geologists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have identified two important geographical features that exist beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and are invisible to the naked eye.

A team led by Hugh Corr of the BAS used an aircraft fitted with specialised radar equipment to bounce waves through the ice and identify a subglacial layer of ash that extends across an area the size of Wales. According to the scientists, the ash layer proves that a volcanic eruption occurred beneath the ice sheet some 2,000 years ago.

'Our techniques also allow us to put a date on the eruption, determine how powerful it was and map out the area where ash fell,' Corr said. 'It blew a substantial hole in the ice sheet and generated a plume of ash and gas that rose around 12 kilometres in the air.'

The eruption, believed to have been the largest in the region in 10,000 years, is also thought to have accelerated basal melting beneath the nearby Pine Island Glacier and may explain why the glacier's flow towards the coast has increased in recent decades.

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Another BAS team is on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet conducting geophysical surveys of Lake Ellssworth, an ancient subglacial take the size of Windermere that may have lain isolated for hundreds of thousands of years. …

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