Volcanic Heat Fueling ‘Mysterious’ Antarctic Melt Hole

Weddell Sea

The sudden formation of a large and ‘mysterious’ melt hole in Antarctica’s Weddell sea ice (see Figure 1) is from heat flow generated by the underlying Maude Volcanic Plateau.

Figure 1.) Widely publicized image of recently formed and very large melt hole in the middle / thickest portion of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea ice. (credit MODIS-Aqua via NASA Worldview, sea ice contours from AMSR2 via University of Bremen)

This “mysterious” melt hole is baffling mainstream glaciologists and climate scientists as per the quotes below:

“The gigantic, mysterious hole “is quite remarkable”, atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus, told me over the phone. “It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice.” (see here).

“Areas of open water surrounded by sea ice, such as this one, are known as polynyas. They form in coastal regions of Antarctica, Moore told me. What’s strange here, though, is that this polynya is “deep in the ice pack,” he said, “and must have formed through other processes that aren’t understood”. (see here).

Now we’ll explain how this event is related to relevant local and regional seafloor geological information.

Let’s begin by comparing the local seafloor geological setting to the ocean surface geographic outline of the melt hole (Figure 2). Overlying sea-ice cover has been removed from the map below. This process reveals the ocean floor bedrock with its elevation highs and lows. Lighter blue color shading indicates ocean floor highs, conversely dark gray and black shading indicates ocean floor lows.

Two ocean floor geological features dominate the map. First, a series of black shaded very low elevation gashes located in the upper portion of the Figure 2 map.  These gashes represent major deep Earth reaching faults that are part of a world-class and very active rift/fault system.  A fault system that is literally tearing apart the Weddell Sea floor. In fact, several very large 6.9 to 6.7 Richter Scale earthquakes have occurred along this fault system within the last seven days. Large seafloor moving earthquakes regularly occur along this rift/fault system.

These active faults reach deep into Earth’s hot molten rock regions, thereby tapping into super-heated and chemically charged fluids. Splays of this fault system connect southwestward and intersect the Maude Volcanic Plateau which lies underneath the recent melt hole. It is here contended that these specific splay faults supplied and still supply hot molten lava and anomalous heat flow to the Maude Volcanic Platform.

Figure 2.) Close-up image of recently formed Weddell Sea ice melt hole (red outline) with the underlay of Maude Volcanic Plateau (black outline) and Mount Maude Seamount (red circle).

Next, let’s discuss additional details of the Maude Volcanic Plateau (Figure 2). It was formed millions of years ago when several regional rift/fault systems became very active (see highly technical geological article). This volcanic plateau is illustrated on the map above as a black outline that is infill-shaded light blue indicating that it is a prominent, high seafloor elevation. The Maude Volcanic Plateau is also home to several large seafloor volcanoes (seamounts), most notably the Mount Maude Seamount as shown as a red circle on the above map.

The most stunning piece of information that can be gleaned from the Figure 2 map is that the outline of the recent melt hole exactly matches the ocean floor outline Maude Volcanic Plateau.  Absolutely astounding! This invokes the very strong possibility of a cause and effect relationship between Maude Volcanic Plateau heat flow and generation of the melt hole.

A research study measuring the temperature of shallow ocean waters overlying the Maude Volcanic Plateau found them to be anomalously warm and constricted to a well-defined “warm pool” (see here). This was based on measurements from a limited number of floating buoys that only measured the shallow portion of the ocean column “warm pool.”

The research defined outline of the warm pool was found to be slightly shifted to the southwest of the underlying Maude Volcanic Plateau. This is understandable given the paucity of temperature- measuring buoys and their shallow ocean depth restricted position. Keep in mind the Maude Volcanic Plateau resides at an approximate depth of 12,000 feet below sea level. It would be very reasonable to expect that the sea surface outline of the shallow “warm pool” would be slightly shifted from relative to its deep origin point.

Importantly, the melt hole has a history of reoccurring at the same exact fixed/non-moving geographic location; 1977, 2016, and 2017. Sporadically occurring fixed non-moving anomalous ocean events are often associated with fixed non-moving geological features, such as ocean floor volcanic plateaus.

Next let’s discuss the relevant regional geological aspects of the recent melt hole, again with an image that has the sea ice removed, thereby exposing the ocean floor bedrock geological features. (Figure 3).

Figure 3.) Regional Geology of Antarctic Continent and the Weddell Sea area. Sea ice was stripped off to expose underlying volcanic plateau’s, volcanoes and a major deep inner-Earth reaching rift/fault system.

This very broad view illustrates the two most important ocean floor geological features in the regional Maude Volcanic Plateau area. First, on the upper portion of the map is the eastern extent of the same major deep Earth reaching world class and very active rift/fault system mentioned in the local geological review.  This portion of the rift/fault system is also very earthquake active and the faults are also deep inner Earth reaching.

The second important geological feature is the massive Kerguelen Volcanic Plateau which has one actively erupting volcano, Big Ben (see here, and here), located along its northern extent (red circle). The volcano just to the south of Big Ben (the other red circle) is active but not currently erupting. Kerguelen is known to be a very active heat flowing volcanic plateau.

Research by the Australian Antarctic Division has proven that hundreds of currently active hydrothermal vents rim the now-erupting Big Ben volcano. Additionally, their research proved that ocean floor geothermal heat and heated fluid flow has chemically charged (iron) and significantly warmed all Kerguelen Volcanic Plateau surrounding oceans. This warming has acted to alter Kerguelen Volcanic Plateau area plankton blooms and disrupted multiple marine animal migration patterns.

Granted the Kerguelen Volcanic Plateau is not a perfect analog to the smaller Maude Volcanic Plateau; however, they have several very interesting and similar geological aspects. Both volcanic plateaus:

  • Lie south of, and are connected to, the same major rift/fault system.
  • Actively emit ocean floor heat flow.
  • Contain large volcanoes.
  • Are associated with overlying warmed ocean areas.

It is here contended that the known volcanic heat flow of the massive Kerguelen Volcanic Plateau is evidence that the entire Weddell Sea region is likely over active seafloor vents in varying amounts. Areas adjacent to faults and volcanic have more active, other flat ocean floor areas less active.

In summary, by including relevant local and regional ocean floor geological information into the Antarctic melt hole analysis, it becomes obvious that bedrock heat flow and chemically charged heated fluid flow is the likely root cause of this event.

Mystery solved!

James Edward Kamis is a Retired Geologist with 42 years of experience, a B.S. in Geology from Northern Illinois University (1973), and M.S. in geology from Idaho State University (1977) who has always been fascinated by the connection between Geology and Climate. More than 12 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. The Plate Climatology Theory (plateclimatology.com) was formally introduced on October 7, 2014, and published at the annual 2016 American Metrological Society Conference in New Orleans on January 13, 2016 (see here). James is also the author of more than fifty Climate Change Dispatch articles discussing the relationship between geological forces and climate.



http://www.foxnews.com/science/2017/10/12/massive-hole-just-opened-up-in-antarcticas-ice-and-scientists-cant-explain-it.html   Fox News Article Concerning the Supposedly Unexplainable Mysterious melt hole in Antarctic sea ice

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wjx9w4/a-giant-mysterious-hole-has-opened-up-in-antarctica Article Concerning the Supposedly Unexplainable Mysterious melt hole in Antarctic sea ice

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170929093337.htm Recurrence of the Weddell Sea melt hole

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2008GL034629/full#footer-citing  Geology of Antarctica’s Maude Seamount (seafloor volcano).

http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/characteristics/polynyas.html   Detailed Explanation of sea ice melt holes Which are Termed “Polynyas”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynya  Basic Explanation of sea ice melt holes Which are Termed “Polynyas”

http://ocp.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/div/ocp/pub/martinson/2000JC000531.pdf  Columbia University Maude Rise Volcanic Plateau Research Study

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265142026_Mineralogy_and_Geochemistry_of_Alkali_Basalts_from_Maud_RiseWeddell_SeaAntarctica  Research Abstract Proving Maude Rise Area is Volcanic in Nature and Was Formed by Heat and Lava Flows Upward Along a Major rift/fault system

https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11001-005-1337-9?no-access=true  Research Abstract Proving Maude Rise Area is Volcanic in Nature and Was Formed by Heat and Lava Flows Upward Along a Major rift/fault system

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228482730_Maud_Rise_revisited   Maude Volcanic Rise Area High Heat Flow Research

http://www.antarctica.gov.au/magazine/2001-2005/issue-2-spring-2001/science/big-ben-the-fire-beneath-the-ice Kerguelen Volcanic Plateau

Comments (3)

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    MSM headlines don’t mention volcanic activity, just “Antarctica melt hole”.
    A half truth is a lie.

  • Avatar

    Spurwing Plover


    Dont hold your breath waiting for this to make the front fages of the New York Slimes(All the Sludge That’s Fit to Print)or in National Geographic and Popular Svience and dont wait for the talkinh heads to mention this bit of fact their too busy selling Al Bores Snake Oil

  • Avatar

    R Johnson


    Thanks to James Edward Kamis for being a true scientist who’s willing to use knowledge, experience, and solid data to pinpoint the cause an unusual event.

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