University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Scott Polar Research Institute - Physical Sciences Seminar > Sub ice volcanism, ice sheets and global change

Sub ice volcanism, ice sheets and global change

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Other than in response to mitigating the impacts of modern eruptions (e.g. Eyjafjallajökull (Iceland) in 2010), the products of volcanism are generally neglected in environmental studies. This is also true for studies of palaeoenvironments, where volcanism is not often considered a first line of attack. However, Antarctica is host to numerous volcanoes that were constructed over the past 25 million years. They were erupted in association with a coeval ice sheet, and Antarctica contains the world’s largest and longest-lived glaciovolcanic province. Glaciovolcanic studies have advanced out of all recognition over the past 10 years and they are now a major new proxy methodology that can yield a much wider and more quantitative range of critical parameters of past ice sheets than any other palaeoenvironmental methodology. They provide a unique ultra-proximal terrestrial record of equal importance to results of more distally situated higher-resolution marine sedimentary studies, which are obtained by offshore drilling at a substantially higher cost. Historically, glaciovolcanic sequences provided the earliest evidence for a pre-Quaternary ice sheet in Antarctica, and subglacial volcano(es) might today be influencing ice sheet stability by lubricating sensitive parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This talk will use examples of selected mature studies of Antarctic glaciovolcanism to demonstrate how they are at last beginning to be used to reconstruct parts of the Neogene Antarctic Ice Sheet (AIS) in far greater detail than was previously possible. Critical parameters that can be routinely deduced include basal thermal regime and (uniquely) ice thickness, knowledge of which is a fundamental prerequisite for making accurate estimates of past ice volumes and showing how those volumes fluctuated with time. Studies such as these are important in assessing the stability of the AIS under the current phase of climate warming, and ultimately to calculate much more reliably the possible impacts on eustasy. Thus glaciovolcanic investigations in Antarctica are likely to make major contributions to our understanding of the global impact of the world’s largest & longest-lived ice sheet.

This talk is part of the Scott Polar Research Institute - Physical Sciences Seminar series.

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