Researchers discover volcanic heat source under major Antarctic glacier

June 25, 2018, University of Rhode Island
This view is from the bow of the icebreaker the RRS James Clark Ross on a 2014 scientific expedition, during which University of Rhode Island researcher and five other scientists discovered an active volcanic heat source beneath the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. Credit: Photo courtesy of Brice Loose

A researcher from the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography and five other scientists have discovered an active volcanic heat source beneath the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica.

The discovery and other findings, which are critical to understanding the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, of which the Pine Island Glacier is a part, are published in the paper, "Evidence of an active source beneath the Pine Island Glacier," in the latest edition of Nature Communications.

Assistant Professor Brice Loose of Newport, a chemical oceanographer at GSO and the lead author, said the paper is based on research conducted during a major expedition in 2014 to Antarctica led by scientists from the United Kingdom. They worked aboard an icebreaker, the RRS James Clark Ross, from January to March, Antarctica's summer.

"We were looking to better understand the role of the ocean in melting the ice shelf," Loose said. "I was sampling the water for five different noble gases, including helium and xenon. I use these noble gases to trace ice melt as well as heat transport. Helium-3, the gas that indicates volcanism, is one of the suite of gases that we obtain from this tracing method.

"We weren't looking for volcanism, we were using these gases to trace other actions," he said. "When we first started seeing high concentrations of helium-3, we thought we had a cluster of bad or suspicious data."

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet lies atop a major volcanic rift system, but there had been no evidence of current magmatic activity, the URI scientist said. The last such activity was 2,200 years ago, Loose said. And while volcanic heat can be traced to dormant volcanoes, what the scientists found at Pine Island was new.

In the paper, Loose said that the volcanic rift system makes it difficult to measure heat flow to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

"You can't directly measure normal indicators of volcanism—heat and smoke— because the volcanic rift is below many kilometers of ice," Loose said

But as the team conducted its research, it found high quantities of an isotope of helium, which comes almost exclusively from mantle, Loose said.

"When you find helium-3, it's like a fingerprint for volcanism. We found that it is relatively abundant in the seawater at the Pine Island shelf.

Researchers discover volcanic heat source under major Antarctic glacier
Scientists work alongside the icebreaker, the RRS James Clark Ross, in Antarctica in February 2014. Credit: Photo courtesy of Brice Loose

"The volcanic heat sources were found beneath the fastest moving and the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier," Loose said. "It is losing mass the fastest."

He said the amount of ice sliding into the ocean is measured in gigatons. A gigaton equals 1 billion metric tons.

However, Loose cautions, this does not imply that volcanism is the major source of mass loss from Pine Island. On the contrary, "there are several decades of research documenting the heat from ocean currents is destabilizing Pine Island Glacier, which in turn appears to be related to a change in the climatological winds around Antarctica," Loose said. Instead, this evidence of volcanism is a new factor to consider when monitoring the stability of the ice sheet.

The scientists report in the paper that "helium isotope and noble gas measurements provide geochemical evidence of sub-glacial meltwater production that is subsequently transported to the cavity of the Pine Island Ice Shelf." They say that heat energy released by the volcanoes and hydrothermal vents suggests that the heat source beneath Pine Island is about 25 times greater than the bulk of heat flux from an individual dormant volcano.

Professor Karen Heywood, from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, the United Kingdom, and chief scientist for the expedition, said: "The discovery of volcanoes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet means that there is an additional source of heat to melt the ice, lubricate its passage toward the sea, and add to the melting from warm ocean waters. It will be important to include this in our efforts to estimate whether the Antarctic ice sheet might become unstable and further increase sea level rise."

Does that mean that global climate change is not a factor in the stability of the Pine Island Glacier?

No, said Loose. "Climate change is causing the bulk of glacial melt that we observe, and this newly discovered source of heat is having an as-yet undetermined effect, because we do not know how this heat is distributed beneath the ice sheet."

He said other studies have shown that melting caused by climate change is reducing the size and weight of the glacier, which reduces the pressure on the mantle, allowing greater heat from the volcanic source to escape and then warm the ocean water.

"Predicting the rate of sea level rise is going to be a key role for science over the next 100 years, and we are doing that. We are monitoring and modeling these ," Loose said.

The scientists conclude by writing: "The magnitude and the variations in the rate of the volcanic supplied to the Pine Island Glacier, either by internal magma migration, or by an increase in volcanism as a consequence of ice sheet thinning, may impact the future dynamics of the Pine Island Glacier, during the contemporary period of climate-driven glacial retreat."

In addition to Heywood, Loose worked with Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom; Peter Schlosser of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University; William Jenkins of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts; and David Vaughn of the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Explore further: Local weather impacts melting of one of Antarctica's fastest-retreating glaciers

More information: Brice Loose et al. Evidence of an active volcanic heat source beneath the Pine Island Glacier, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04421-3

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betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2018
Great Possibility to use Thermal Energy Now,, with this newly observed phenomenon that has come to light !.
ZoeBell
Jun 25, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ZoeBell
Jun 25, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jonesdave
3.5 / 5 (11) Jun 25, 2018
My geothermal theory of global warming.............


.......is a heap of pseudoscientific crap. FTFY.
ZoeBell
Jun 25, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jonesdave
3 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2018
ZoeBell
Jun 25, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Phys1961
2 / 5 (4) Jun 25, 2018
The Earth receives 174 petawatts (1.74 ×1017 W) of incoming solar radiation.

The total worldwide energy (oil, coal, gas, nuclear, and renewable) consumption is 1.504×1013 W
That says that the rapport is 1/10 000. Our participation in Earth energy balance is very small. We are too weak for the competition with Sun.
How have we succeeded to do global warming? And have we done?
Phys1961
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 25, 2018
Is Global Warming Man-Made?
There are many natural influences on the Earth climate. However, Earth has temperature stabilizing factors by means of the water balance, the Earth radiation and others.
If the global warming exists, it is most probably due to natural fluctuations, it is not Man-made. We have to study more thoroughly the climate change in order to understand its causes and effects.
galinapop.blogspot.com/2009/12
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2018
Well, for all you denier shills. My offer of a proposed empirical experiment still holds. To prove or disprove Humans influence adds to the phenomena of Climate Change.

You stand outside in the rain. A hard-pelting, windblasted sleet and hail. A Natural event, correct?

Then I will turn this firehose spraying sewage right in your face. A Human caused, Unnatural event, correct?

Take pride in Humanity's genius at making any and every bad situation much worse!

Cause the Matricide of Earth, is our legacy of hubris to the future.

antigoracle
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 25, 2018
Well, for all you denier shills......HEE....HAWWW....HEE......HAWWWW
-- The Chicken Little Jackass brays.

BILLIONS squandered on the AGW Cult's propaganda...err...excuse me "science"
Chicken Little, please find us a single peer reviewed study, that conclusively shows, anything the Cult claims is due to manmade CO2.
Phys1961
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 25, 2018
Global warming scientists claim that the GW is due to accumulation of carbon dioxide in Earth atmosphere, but there is no similarity between the curve of Earth temperature anomaly (wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming) and the content of carbon dioxide in Earth atmosphere (wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_atmosphere#/media/File:Global_Carbon_Emissions.svg)
Between 1940 and 1980, there is a small change in Earth temperature, while carbon dioxide in atmosphere increases 6 times.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
2.5 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2018
Global warming scientists claim that the GW is due to accumulation of carbon dioxide in Earth atmosphere, but there is no similarity between the curve of Earth temperature anomaly...

Between 1940 and 1980, there is a small change in Earth temperature, while carbon dioxide in atmosphere increases 6 times.


Massive deforestation, such as the demise of Earth's rainforests for agricultural use, as it has been reported by Green Peace and others, is a major source of CO2 emissions from dead decaying trees and other vegetation. Rainforests and others are natural carbon/heatsinks that consume CO2 and return O2 to the atmosphere. Coffee plantations, as well as palm oil plantations use up too many hectares/acres of land while the produce is extremely profitable. It is a choice of giving up your morning cup-a-joe or allowing growers to continue raping the forests for your caffeine fix.
Unfortunately, I happen to love my coffee.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
1 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2018
Well, for all you denier shills. My offer of a proposed empirical experiment still holds. To prove or disprove Humans influence adds to the phenomena of Climate Change.

You stand outside in the rain. A hard-pelting, windblasted sleet and hail. A Natural event, correct?

Then I will turn this firehose spraying sewage right in your face. A Human caused, Unnatural event, correct?

Take pride in Humanity's genius at making any and every bad situation much worse!

Cause the Matricide of Earth, is our legacy of hubris to the future.


says rrwillsj

You seem to have a knack for posing a dearth of platitudes to no one in particular in your attempt to push a 'guilt complex' onto the readers of this article who are predominantly innocent bystanders. Perhaps you have missed your true calling to travel the country of your choice bearing a megaphone while riding on a truck bed, admonishing all passersby to quit exhaling CO2 and consuming vittles. Yes?
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
1 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2018
They discovered an active volcanic heat source under Pine Island in 2014 and they are just telling us about it now four years later??

I do hope that the vulcanologists in charge of Yellowstone will be more diligent in warning the world if she's about to blow her top.

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