Investigation of Geothermal and Volcanic Activity in Antarctica


Looking at Eumetsat's Metop satellite infrared images from the antarctic area every day sometimes you see dark low level clouds or a high level steam plume emanating from a single point. If a 2nd and 3rd pass show similar clouds from the same point its probably not a random cloud effect. If you then look up the latitude and longitude of this source of cloud, sometimes it coincides with a volcanic peak. Thats what I have been doing the last few months. I would conclude that there is quite a lot of geothermal and mild volcanic gas emissions in western antarctica but most of it goes unnoticed or at least does not seem to get in the news very much. The metop satellite is able to look at a 3000*1000km swathe every few hours (also in the winter darkness period using infrared).

The most notable hot gas or steam emission I came across was from Mount Siple on 20th June 2012, the plume grew to 300km long. It shows up on 4 consecutive Metop passes. Also in the thermal image you can see the volcanic cone shows up as a circle that is a 6+ degrees warmer than the surrounding area.

073S 126W Mount Siple, Siple Island, Antarctica

I submitted my observation to the US Geological Survey amongst others who compile weekly reports of observations of volcanoes from around the world:

With plumes you can get a similar wind shadow effect when strong low winds blow over the flat plains and sea ice of the antartic and are disturbed by tall mountain peaks like Siple, but these plumes are shorter and have different characteristics.

Hawaii university has a global volcanic hot spot monitoring websites. But it does not seem to register Antarctica emissions as hot gas and smoke is instantly frozen and water condenses on it by the surrounding air which is -20 to-50degC. The hotspot monitoring seems to be set up to detect the more dangerous final phases of volcanic activity when lava and ash are coming out of the cone. It works well in Indonesia or Hawaii when you have ambient temperatures of +10 to +35degC.

There are lots more interesting spots still to investigate in and near the antarctic rift areas including:









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