Nov. 18 (UPI) -- There is an active volcano simmering below Antarctica's surface -- one that researchers believe could erupt in the future, causing a rapid melting of Antarctic ice sheets.
The as yet unnamed volcano is the first active volcano found in sub-glacial Antarctica, unlike volcanoes above the surface like Mt. Erebus, and inactive subglacial volcanoes.
The volcano was discovered by accident in western Antarctica when magma was found flowing beneath the ice sheet. The researchers' findings have been published in Nature Geoscience.
"This is really the golden age of discovery of the Antarctic continent," said co-author Richard Aster, a seismologist at Colorado State University. "I think there's no question that there are more volcanic surprises beneath the ice."
The volcano was discovered after a network of seismometers detected two swarms of tremors -- one in January 2010 and the other in March 2011. These tremors were found to be 15 to 34 miles below the ice and could not have been the movement of ice shelves. The moving magma was the reason for these tremors.
"In the early studies people thought Antarctica was aseismic," said Amanda Lough of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. "It definitely isn't. It's a lot livelier than people assumed."
Lough added that the volcano is close to a string of mountains called the Executive Committee Range, which were once volcanoes themselves. The volcanic activity seemed to be moving south by about 9.6 kilometres every million years.
[Nature World News] [New Scientist]