Antarctica Current Affairs

Earths Largest volcanic region found in Antarctica

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Britain have discovered the largest volcanic region on Earth, two km below the surface of the vast ice sheet in west Antarctica.

They have found 91 previously unknown active volcanoes in the region known as the West Antarctic rift system, adding to the exiting 47 volcanoes that were discovered earlier. This makes it largest volcanic region on the Earth.

Key Facts

These active peaks are concentrated in the west Antarctic rift system region — which stretches 3,500 km from Antarctica’s Ross ice shelf

to the Antarctic peninsula. The height of these newly discovered active volcanoes range from 100 to 3,850 metres, with the highest being almost as tall as Switzerland’s Eiger mountain (3,970 metre). All of these volcanoes are covered in thick layers of ice.

This region is larger than east Africa’s volcanic ridge which is currently rated as the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world. Any volcanic activity of Antarctic rift system may have crucial implications for the rest of the planet.

If one of the volcanoes in Antarctic rift system erupts, it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets. If it causes the melting of ice on eruption may speed up the flow of ice into the sea. It will enhance sea level rises that are already affecting our oceans due to climate change.

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Climate Change: Antarctica is Turning Green

According to a new study conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK, plant life on Antarctica is growing rapidly due to climate change. The scientists have observed  a sharp increase in biological activity in Antarctica in the last 50 years. For ascertaining the growth, the scientists conducted tests at five cores from three sites and has observed the occurrence of major biological changes across the Antarctic Peninsula. The scientists made use of 150 years’ worth of data to arrive at the conclusion. The study has been published in the journal Current Biology.

According to the scientists, Antarctica will be much greener in the future and the continent’s plants and soils will change substantially even with only modest further warming. The continuous retreat of glaciers will make Antarctica much greener in the future. As per the study, the growth of moss in the continent is a signifier that the region is already undergoing change. At present, the plant life exists only in 0.3% of Antarctica. With increase in land cover occurs decrease in snow and ice cover. The thinner ice cover permits the penetration of sunlight into the previously dark areas allowing the planktons to grow. This would bring ecosystem shift to Antarctica similar to what has happened in Arctic.

Background

In March 2017, the US and European scientists had observed that the extent of sea ice at both poles has hit new record lows in this year’s season. The disappearing sea ice comes as the Earth marks three consecutive years of record-breaking heat and temperature rise, raising fresh concerns about the accelerating pace of global warming.  Also, for the past two years, Antarctica saw record high sea ice extents and decades of moderate sea ice growth.

Recently, the researchers have also found that the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no signs of change up to 2009. But after 2009, multiple glaciers along a vast coastal expanse suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean. These glaciers measure around 750 km in length and are shrinking nearly at a constant rate of 60 cubic km and adding about 55 trillion litres of water each year. With this level of shrinking, the region has become the second largest contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica causing small changes in the gravity field of the Earth.

Bharti is the name of third Research station commissioned by India at Antarctica. It will be the third and second active research station along with Maitri (active) and Dakshin Gangotri(abandoned, but used as supply base) for the nation.

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