Major volcanic eruptions, such as the recent one in Iceland, capture our imagination and make worldwide news headlines. Conversely, moderate volcanic activity is typically uninteresting to the public and therefore never makes media headlines, with one important exception….volcanic activity in Antarctica.
Antarctica’s Mount Erebus cleared its magma-swollen throat on December 5, 2014, as evidenced by the occurrence of multiple earthquakes and increased volcanic activity within its massive 12,448-foot high summit (photo above). Erebus has maintained a moderate level of volcanic activity since fulltime monitoring began in 1972, punctuated by more active pulses (1984, 1993, 2001, 2005, and 2015).
When it was discovered in 1841 by polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross, it was noted to be erupting at that time. It was subsequently named after one of Ross’ two ships, the HMS Erebus. A second, albeit inactive, volcano found 19 miles west of Mount Erebus was named Mount Terror, after Ross’ second ship.
Since December 2014, earthquake swarms have continued unabated as Mount Erebus emits significantly greater amounts of heat and associated gases, frequently ejects small lava bombs, and provides resident scientists and sightseers with frequent ash plume displays.
Volcanologists have utilized sound energy from Mount Erebus’ earthquakes to reconstruct a three-dimensional picture of the volcano’s magma chamber’s depth and extent. Research published in May of 2012 by New Mexico Tech shows that as of 2008 the main magma chamber was active (not dormant), likely at a shallow depth (approximately 4,000 feet below the summit), and more than a half-mile wide. Additionally, an earthquake sound imaging technique assisted in the mapping of the volcano’s internal guts, a complex network of deep faults. These faults connect to, and are part of, the giant West Antarctic Rift System. They act as conduits to feed lava upward and into Mount Erebus from deep mantle sources.
The West Antarctic Rift System is 3,000-mile long world-class “divergent” tectonic plate boundary that is literally ripping the Antarctic continent a part (Figure 1).
A west-to-east crosscut view of the rift is shown in the Figure 2 seismic line. Seismic utilizes downward directed manually generated sound energy, typically using surface-based explosive dynamite charges, to generate an accurate picture of objects below the surface.
The seismic line clearly shows numerous deep faults associated with the Cape Roberts Rift Basin portion of the West Antarctic Rift System, fault connection to potential deep mantle heat and fluid sources, and the pull-a-part nature of the rift system (Figure 2).
The power and extent of the West Antarctic Rift System is also exemplified by the recent and fortuitous discovery of several sub-glacial “active” volcanoes. In January 2010 and March 2011 scientists from Washington University and St Louis measured earthquake swarms 10 to 15 kilometers beneath thick glacial ice cover. These swarms are proven good mapping proxies for the geographic position and activity of deep sub-glacial volcanoes.
Even more telling is recent research that found distinctive volcanic eruption ash layers within Antarctic glacial ice cores dated at 23,000 and 45,000 years ago. These ash layers confirm the time and power of two major sub-glacial volcanic eruptions located along the West Antarctic Rift System, which triggered a sudden and massive heat flow release thereby melting huge quantities of overlying glacial ice.
This brief description of Antarctica’s volcanic history paints a very clear picture that the vast West Antarctic Rift and Volcanic System, including Mount Erebus, packs a tangible heat-flow punch.
The West Antarctic Rift System is responsible for other notable glacial melting and ocean heating events as summarized below and detailed in previous posting: (West Antarctica Ice Sheet Melting From Geothermal Heat, Not Global Warming).
1.) Thwaites Glacier Melting: University of Texas researchers recently published an extensive study that proves geologically induced sub-glacial geothermal heat flow is melting this glacier from below.
2.) Sub-glacial freshwater lake and stream hydraulic system: Significant amounts of research, sub-glacial wells, and observations have proven this system is widespread, interconnected, contains numerous hot springs, and most importantly, is associated with a West Antarctic Rift System heat source. This is an astounding discovery of major significance because it is yet another confirmation of the overlooked power and influence of regional geologically induced sub-glacial heat flow. The very recent discovery of several sub-glacial freshwater lakes in Greenland may just be well…the tip of the iceberg. Research has shown that basal geologically induced heat flow is present here as well (Greenland Ice Melt Geothermal, Not Manmade).
3.) Deep Ocean Rift Volcanoes: The West Antarctic Rift System continues both north and south of the continent into the deep ocean where it is actively emitting heat into and thereby warming the overlying ocean. Scientists continue to discover many of these deep ocean volcanoes. A very recent example is research done in 2011 that located deep submarine mountains just north of Antarctica (Figure 3).
A chain of giant, undersea volcanoes has been found off Antarctica, scientists say.
All told a dozen previously unknown peaks were discovered beneath the waves—some up to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) tall, according to the British Antarctic Survey.
The volcanoes were found near the U.K. territories of the South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands (see map) during a month long mapping expedition, which used multibeam sonar to fill in a 370-mile (600-kilometer) by 90-mile (150-kilometer) gap in existing seabed maps.
“It was amazing finding them,” said Phil Leat, a geologist volcanologist with the survey. “There were so many of these volcanoes we had no idea about.”
Also important is the fact that the still active volcanoes have hydrothermal vents (see video) that provide unique habitats for life, some of which might be analogous to organisms that might survive around hot springs on other worlds, such as Jupiter’s Europa.
In addition, the volcanoes’ rocky slopes provide excellent habitat for fish and other marine organisms.
“They’re almost like coral reefs,” Leat said.
“There’s no coral, but they are habitats for life. When we’ve looked in these areas before, we’ve found new species”
Connection to the giant West Antarctic Rift System is the key geological component that fuels Mount Erebus, and also numerous other Antarctic heating events. It is likely that on-going West Antarctic volcanism and related heat flow should be included as a prominent element of any theory that tries to explain Antarctic glacial melting.
Those supporting the global warming theory, NASA, NOAA, IPCC, and the Obama administration, have flooded the media with reports that rapid West Antarctic glacial melting is clearly and unequivocally caused by manmade global warming of the oceans and atmosphere.
Overwhelming amounts of credible evidence strongly indicates, if not proves, that geologically induced heat flow from the West Antarctic Rift System is melting glaciers from beneath. Rift System faults provide a conduit to deep mantle heat. This is the key geological component that fuels Mount Erebus, and numerous other Antarctic heating events.
An alternative reason for West Antarctic glacial melting is the Plate Climatology Theory (PCT), which provides plausible geological explanations that are testable, observable, and reproducible. While no theory is perfect (hence the term), PCT doesn’t rely on faulty computer models, the latter having failed miserably at predicting the lack of global warming for 18-plus years based on satellite observations.
The reawakening of Mount Erebus is just another piece in a nearly completed geological heat flow puzzle.
Wake Up! Join us by informing politicians and the media that you do not agree with the notion manmade global warming is the proven and consensus theory.
James Edward Kamis is a Geologist and AAPG member of 40 years and has always been fascinated by the connection between Geology and Climate. Years of research / observation have convinced him that the Earth’s Heat Flow Engine, which drives the outer crustal plates, is also an important driver of the Earth’s climate. To contact James directly, use the Contact Us page.