National Geographic Daily News
Photo of Mt. Erebus in West Antarctica.

The summit of Mount Erebus casts a long shadow out over the Ross Sea. Mount Erebus is the most active volcano in Antarctica—and one of a few in the world with a permanent lake of molten lava in its crater.

Photograph by George Steinmetz, Corbis  

Ker Than

for National Geographic

Published November 18, 2013

A newly discovered volcano found buried beneath a thick layer of ice in Antarctica could speed up ice loss and raise global sea levels when it erupts, scientists say.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of Nature Geoscience, marks the first time that an active volcano has been discovered under the ice of the frozen continent. (Also see "Giant Undersea Volcanoes Found Off Antarctica.")

When it erupts—which no one can predict—the volcano "will create millions of gallons of water beneath the ice—many lakes full," study leader Doug Wiens, professor of earth and planetary science at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement.

This water will rush beneath the ice toward the sea and feed into one of the major ice streams that drain ice from Antarctica into the Ross Ice Shelf, Wiens explained.

What's new?

The new volcano's discovery was accidental. In January 2010, scientists set up a series of seismometers, or earthquake detectors, on Marie Byrd Land, a highland region of West Antarctica.

The instruments array detected two swarms of earthquakes about one year apart, in 2010 and 2011. The earthquakes were small, with magnitudes of between 0.8 and 2.1.

The tremors occurred at depths of about 15 to 25 miles (25 to 40 kilometers), close to the boundary between the crust and the mantle, and much deeper than normal crustal earthquakes.

The depth at which the quakes occurred, as well as their low frequency, suggests they might be so-called Deep Long Period earthquakes, or DPLs, which occur in volcanic areas.

"People aren't really sure what causes DPLs," said Amanda Lough, a postdoctoral student in Wiens's lab and the first author of the study, said in a statement.

"It seems to vary by volcanic complex, but most people think it's the movement of magma and other fluids that leads to pressure-induced vibrations in cracks within volcanic and hydrothermal systems."

Why is the discovery important?

Lough and her team say it's not a matter of if the newly discovered volcano will erupt, but when. "It most likely has erupted before," Lough said. (Watch video: Volcanoes 101.)

That's because the volcano sits atop a raised portion of land that the team believes is composed of previously erupted material.

What would happen in an eruption?

The volcano is covered by more than half a mile (one kilometer) of ice, so it would have to be an extraordinarily powerful eruption to breach the surface.

However, the heat from the volcano could increase melting at the base of the glacier and meltwater could act like a lubricant that makes the overlying ice flow out to sea faster. Global sea levels could rise by a small amount as a result.

"We're not talking about an eruption causing the ice sheet to melt and cause catastrophic sea-level rise," Lough told National Geographic.

"This volcanic complex has been operating for millions of years ... There have been past eruptions of this system and the ice has survived for millions of years, [so] future eruptions alone will not cause the ice sheet to fail."

What's next?

Most of the seismometers used to discover the volcano have been removed and installed in other areas in Antarctica, so further study of its seismic activity is no longer possible.

But Lough said she hopes scientists will continue to study the volcano using other instruments.

"I'm really excited because this paper has stirred up a lot of interest in the glaciology community," she said, "and hopefully someone there will take up the challenge to answer the questions of what are the possible outcomes."

Follow Ker Than on Twitter.

45 comments
Cindy Wright
Cindy Wright

I live here on Ross Island  this Volcano is in my back yard ... I haven't felt any earth quakes since I got here ,it is smoking but nothing significant 

Pritheesh Mallya
Pritheesh Mallya

Still Volcano can't beat the rate of  human contribution to Glacier Melt.

Ryan Houde
Ryan Houde

I would like to thaw out a wooly mammoth and eat it. 


Sudharma Daine
Sudharma Daine

Interesting news item. I wonder, whether this volcanic action is due to the plate movements? The picture is awesome. Thank you for sharing.

Detti Bóta
Detti Bóta

I guess... grammatical malfunction is already taking us down by the dozen... :)

Windy Bolton
Windy Bolton

I do understand idea of water cause some of the Continents going partly or all under water beside that what other things could it cause?

Windy Bolton
Windy Bolton

Since we know that scientist has study and know there Volcanoes under some bodies of water. We also know that all Continents was once all connect. We also know that Trench and Earthquakes shift and push new Islands to surfaces in different areas of the Planet.  I guess my question would be what be possible of it causing massive Earthquake and how much damage could it cause? Would it or could it send a chain reaction to other Earthquakes?

Windy Bolton
Windy Bolton

Could this Volcanoe been around when Dinosaurs roam the Earth?

Windy Bolton
Windy Bolton

If this Volcanoe is under ice could this Volcanoe be connect to very core of Earth?

Windy Bolton
Windy Bolton

How many Volcanoes does that make us have now ? Could there be more?

Could this be the Volcanoe that help cause Ice Age?


Joseph Martin
Joseph Martin

Loving how the climate science deniers are, as usual, twisting the information presented and the intent of this article to advance their agenda.

Begiek Zurekin
Begiek Zurekin

oh,oh....danger.....danger....the poles will move...or not ...but...

Raees M.
Raees M.

Very interesting article! Although Amanda Lough feels that the impact won't be "catastrophic," I feel it can be. The impact of the previous eruptions from millions of years may not have caused the ice sheets to fail but, I feel the circumstances today are different. Today there is a greater amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing the greenhouse effect to melt ice prior to any eruptions. Since the ice's stability has been compromised due to these gases and increased temperatures, I feel that these recent eruptions yet to come can cause the ice sheets to fail. I highly support further research and exploring on this topic because Earth has such a complex system. Any change such as a rise in global sea levels can lead to many other problems that we may not even be aware of. 

John Wood
John Wood

Preston Ford, I agree

We need to keep exploring and ask why.


Preston Ford
Preston Ford

See, another way of proving that we have no idea what's going on with climate change. I mean, this is just another way of showing that Earth is going through(I think anyways) possibly a historical pattern never recorded before. Who knows? C:

Julian Benedict
Julian Benedict

Since the Eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, we have had hundreds of other volcanic eruptions that have not doomed mankind. I love science, but I hate using science to sell books and advance political agendas. Maybe someone could determine why volcanic eruptions do not cause permanent damage to the atmosphere. I agree that heavy industry has caused unnecessary damage to our earth; look into how the earth cleans itself and determine how to manage our waste better. make our waste easier for the environment to absorb?

Nuclear energy science, to my knowledge, has not found a safe way to eliminate the waste and continues to say how clean and safe it is....


todd comer
todd comer

I wonder what impact this discovery has on all the findings related to Climate Change and its currently assumed source... 

Galang Kusmana
Galang Kusmana

the clock's ticking... we have an alarm bomb deep inside the earth

H. Hale
H. Hale

Sadly I'm waiting for someone to try to blame the volcano on man-made causes for global warming.

Swiftright Right
Swiftright Right

Millions of gallon of water? Oh NO! thats enough to raise sea levels BY OMG!!!      no detectable amount...

In other news Nat Geo warns of east coast flooding brought about by young boy peeing in Hudson.

Linda Loughlin
Linda Loughlin

Yes really exciting..the devastation it could create...

robert brooke
robert brooke

Have any names been proposed for the new volcano?Chaos in Greek mythology was the father of Erebus and was supplanted by him.

Chet Esium
Chet Esium

@Cindy Wright The strongest earthquakes reported had magnitude 2.1.  Those are barely detectable by people very close to the epicenter.

Darel Coterel
Darel Coterel

@Pritheesh Mallya  that's not what the scientific reports coming out this week are claiming.  These reports say the melting is mainly from warmer waters coming from below the ocean not from air temperatures above the ice.

Tim Marcinowski
Tim Marcinowski

@Sudharma Daine Antarctica lies in the middle of the Antarctic plate where no major plate boundary exists. The volcano is most likely a hot spot volcano, the likes of which exist in the interior of plates, with a direct magma source tapping directly to the mantle. In saying that however, the volcano could also be the result of rifting of the west antarctic region (which we know has occurred in the past). However very little is known about the tectonics of the Antarctic landmass itself because of the overlying ice. It will be very interesting to see what happens :)

Cooper Nord
Cooper Nord

@Windy Bolton No, to my knowledge neither of those scenarios are possible with this volcano. One would need atleast a super-volcano like that beneath Yellowstone Nat. Park to produce any possible effects on other seismic systems elsewhere.

John Salmeier
John Salmeier


@Windy Bolton 

List of Antarctic volcanoes (please note the *s):

Mount Andrus

Mount Berlin

Mount Bird

Bridgeman Island

Brown Peak (Sturge Island)

Coulman Island

*Deception Island Last eruption 1987

Mount Discovery

*Mount Erebus Last eruption 2012

Mount Frakes

Gaussberg

Mount Hampton

Mount Harcourt

*Hudson Mountains Last eruption 1985(?)

Mount Melbourne

Mount Morning

Mount Moulton

Mount Murphy

Mount Overlord

Paulet Island

*Penguin Island Last eruption 1905(?)

Lars Christensen Peak

The Pleiades

Royal Society Range

*Seal Nunataks Last eruption 1980

Mount Sidley

Mount Siple

Mount Steere

Mount Takahe

Mount Terra Nova

Mount Terror

Toney Mountain

Mount Dimitra

Mount Brown

Mount Christos

Mount Waesche

Darel Coterel
Darel Coterel

@Joseph Martin  you mean "Anthropogenic" climate science deniers, right?  Because volcanoes warming the waters below wouldn't support Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) very well, huh?  Especially when it comes to the Antarctic ice melting, which is almost always cited by the AGW proponents as being evidence or in their eyes "proof" of the AGW hypothesis.  The real deniers are the ones that exclude any and all natural causes and focus only on the man-made climate change mantra.  This is an example of why "consensus" is not very relevant to true science.  Scientific Reports out this week citing Oceanic Forcing as the main contributor to the Antarctic ice melting demonstrate that all too well.


It's time to unite and focus on how to adapt to the Earth's ever-changing climate.  The AGW science fiction is at best counter-productive.  There simply are too many forces at work that humans have no control over.

Cooper Nord
Cooper Nord

@Raees M. What are the circumstances that differ today from 2 thousand years ago? Out of curiosity.

Labani Pal
Labani Pal

@Julian Benedict I do agree with you about human activities. But we can't ignore the volcano. If it erupts there will be a complete disaster 

Darel Coterel
Darel Coterel

@Todd Comer  are we talking about reasonably minded people who are open minded to new facts or just those blinded by extreme environmentalist ideology?  It will have little to no impact on the latter.  They will deny any scientific findings in conflict with their ideology.

P. Brown
P. Brown

@Swiftright Right You miss the point.  The millions of gallons of water will act as a lubricant for the ice overheady, moving it more quickly into the seas around antarctica.   This could contribute to measurable see level increases.

John Salmeier
John Salmeier

@Tim Marcinowski @Sudharma Daine

List of Antarctic volcanoes (please note the *s):
Mount Andrus

Mount Berlin

Mount Bird

Bridgeman Island

Brown Peak (Sturge Island)

Coulman Island

*Deception Island Last eruption 1987

Mount Discovery

*Mount Erebus Last eruption 2012

Mount Frakes

Gaussberg

Mount Hampton

Mount Harcourt

*Hudson Mountains Last eruption 1985(?)

Mount Melbourne

Mount Morning

Mount Moulton

Mount Murphy

Mount Overlord

Paulet Island

*Penguin Island Last eruption 1905(?)

Lars Christensen Peak

The Pleiades

Royal Society Range

*Seal Nunataks Last eruption 1980

Mount Sidley

Mount Siple

Mount Steere

Mount Takahe

Mount Terra Nova

Mount Terror

Toney Mountain

Mount Dimitra

Mount Brown

Mount Christos

Mount Waesche

Ghee Sg
Ghee Sg

@Tim Marcinowski @Sudharma Daine  

Because of global tectonic plates are moving and global volcanic eruption, that volcano found under Antarctic ice eruption would raise sea levels due to collapse of West Antarctic. That would wake up world due to 80% of world population are in coast areas.

Chet Esium
Chet Esium

@Darel Coterel The forces at work that humans have no control over aren't causing a problem.


There are numerous lines of evidence that make the case for AGW, not just one line of evidence.  Those lines of evidence include looking at forcings that are not caused by humans and noticing that those forcings do not explain increased temperatures.


There are multiple reasons for reducing our carbon footprint (acidification of oceans, air pollution, ...) other than AGW.


"Ocean Forcing melted the ice" does not support your hypothesis that there is no anthropogenic warming.  You have to show that the ocean currents changed in response to something other than AGW, and that the water temperatures did not increase due to AGW.

Swiftright Right
Swiftright Right

@P. Brown @Swiftright Right And your not appreciating just how small amount a "million gallons of water" is. Two Olympic swimming pools are well over "a million gallons of water"

Just do some simple off hand math. 6 inches of water spread over 1 square mile is over 200 million gallons. even if 1 square mile worth of ice magically  slid into the ocean it still would have no perceptible change on sea levels.

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