There’s a new contender for the continent with Earth’s biggest volcanic region: Antarctica. Researchers found 91 previously unknown, massive volcanoes, ranging in height from around 328 to 12,631 feet. A University of Edinburgh third-year undergraduate student tipped the researchers off to the incredible discovery.


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Third-year student Max Van Wyk de Vries had the idea to analyze radar mapping data of the continent, and proposed a study to the university. Scientists were then able to verify there are indeed many volcanoes, concentrated in a region called the West Antarctic Rift System, and concealed by West Antarctica’s ice sheet. They say the newly discovered volcanic region is quite similar to East Africa’s volcanic ridge, which currently holds the title for the region with the world’s densest concentration of volcanoes.

Related: Colossal landforms discovered under Antarctic ice sheet are 5X bigger than any on Earth

Scientists drew on ice-penetrating radar measurements, satellite records, and geological information from aerial surveys to confirm Van Wyk de Vries’ concept.

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Van Wyk de Vries said in a statement, “Antarctica remains among the least studied areas of the globe, and as a young scientist I was excited to learn about something new and not well understood. After examining data on West Antarctica, I began discovering traces of volcanism. Naturally, I looked into it further, which led to this discovery of almost 100 volcanoes under the ice sheet.”

Researchers say the discovery could help them better understand how Antarctica has changed during the varying climates of history, and how volcanoes influence ice sheet fluctuations. They have not determined if the volcanoes are active or not, but the awareness of their presence could help scientists researching seismic monitoring in Antarctica.

The research has been published in the Geological Society Special Publications series.

Via the University of Edinburgh

Images via Cassie Matias on Unsplash and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr