A new volcanic province: an inventory of subglacial volcanoes in West Antarctica

by M. van Wyk et al., May 29, 2017 in LyellSpecPublications

(a) Location of the main components of the West Antarctic Rift System and confirmed volcanoes (red circles: after LeMasurier et al. 1990; Smellie & Edwards 2016). (b) Location of Holocene volcanoes (red circles) in the Ethiopia/Kenya branch of the East African Rift (red shaded area). The majority of this activity is aligned along the rift axis with occasional flank volcanism. Data from Siebert & Simkin (2002) and Global Volcanism Program (2013).


The West Antarctic Ice Sheet overlies the West Antarctic Rift System about which, due to the comprehensive ice cover, we have only limited and sporadic knowledge of volcanic activity and its extent. Improving our understanding of subglacial volcanic activity across the province is important both for helping to constrain how volcanism and rifting may have influenced ice-sheet growth and decay over previous glacial cycles, and in light of concerns over whether enhanced geothermal heat fluxes and subglacial melting may contribute to instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Here, we use ice-sheet bed-elevation data to locate individual conical edifices protruding upwards into the ice across West Antarctica, and we propose that these edifices represent subglacial volcanoes. We used aeromagnetic, aerogravity, satellite imagery and databases of confirmed volcanoes to support this interpretation. The overall result presented here constitutes a first inventory of West Antarctica’s subglacial volcanism. We identified 138 volcanoes, 91 of which have not previously been identified, and which are widely distributed throughout the deep basins of West Antarctica, but are especially concentrated and orientated along the >3000 km central axis of the West Antarctic Rift System.