Here is another factor that might be contributing to the thinning of some of the Antarctica’s glaciers: volcanoes. In an article published Sunday on the Web site of the journal Nature Geoscience, Hugh F. J. Corr and David G. Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey report the identification of a layer of volcanic ash and glass shards frozen within an ice sheet in western Antarctica.For Antarctica, “This is the first time we have seen a volcano beneath the ice sheet punch a hole through the ice sheet,” Dr. Vaughan said.Heat from a volcano could still be melting ice and contributing to the thinning and speeding up of the PineIsland Glacier, which passes nearby, but Dr.
Vaughan doubted that it could be affecting other glaciers in West Antarctica, which have also thinned in recent years. Most glaciologists, including Dr. Vaughan, say that warmer ocean water is the primary cause.
Antarctica is a fairly quiet place. But sometime around 325 B.C., the
researchers said, a hidden and still active volcano erupted, puncturing
several hundred yards of ice above it. Ash and shards from the volcano
carried through the air and settled onto the surrounding landscape.
That layer is now out of sight, hidden beneath the snows that fell over
the subsequent 23 centuries.
Although out of sight, the
layer showed up clearly in airborne radar surveys conducted over the
region in 2004 and 2005 by American and British scientists. The
reflected radio waves,over an elliptical area about 110 miles wide,
were so strong that earlier radar surveys had mistakenly identified it
as bedrock. Better radar techniques now can detect a second echo from
the actual bedrock farther down.
The thickness of ice above
the ash layer provided an estimate of the date of the eruption: 207
B.C., give or take 240 years. For a more precise date, Mr. Corr and Dr.
Vaughan turned to previous observations from ice cores, which contained
spikes in the concentration of acids, another byproduct of eruptions.
Scientists knew that an eruption occurred around 325 B.C., plus or
minus a few years, but did not know where the eruption occurred. “We’re
fairly confident this is the same eruption,” Dr. Vaughan said.
Now, they know both time and place.
“It’s probably within Alexander theGreat&rsq......
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