Is volcanic activity contributing to the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Asked by Morag

Wow, this is an interesting question! You can learn all about subglacial volcanoes here. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet has many subglacial lakes beneath it; geothermal heating is thought to contribute to the melting of the base of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. However, the extent of this, and the rate, is very poorly known and currently not included in glaciological numerical models. Actual volcanoes may, during eruptions, melt quite large portions of the ice sheet around them. In Iceland, volcanic eruptions beneath the ice sheet regularly cause catastrophic floods, called jokulhlaups. Subglacial volcanoes are therefore probably contributing at least a little to Antarctic ice sheet melt; the extent to which this is happening is probably reasonably stable over longer timescales.


I am a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle Univeristy, specialising in glaciology and glacial geology. I wrote and developed the website as part of an ongoing commitment to outreach, education and research impact. Read more about me at

12 thoughts on “Is volcanic activity contributing to the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?”

  1. Petter Børkeeiet

    Can you specify a bit more? Which volcanoes are erupting these days and are contributing to the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet?

  2. Martin Wellock

    It seems that there is an eagerness to allocate blame for the imminent collapse of the west Antarctic peninsula on climate change and anthropogenic interference but a marked reluctance to give seabed intense volcanic activity the same credence……..would you not agree ?

    1. Bethan Davies

      There is good evidence that it is changes in ocean currents that is driving rapid grounding-line recession in West Antarctica. Subglacial volcanic activity and geothermal heating is certainly important in providing subglacial meltwater, which lubricates the ice streams and facilitates fast ice-flow, but a step-change in geothermal energy has not been observed that can account for the extremely rapid recession at the ice-ocean interface. See here for more information on subglacial volcanoes.

    2. Stephan Vanhoek

      lol, no doubt, so dont complain about the taxes or the construction projects and be sure to donate

    3. Eitan gratch

      It is definitely fact the entire theory of humans effects due to increasing quantities of CO2 and CH4,gave no geological thought to plate tectonics and mostly unknown submarine activity which by no mean must be unverifiable

  3. Since the knowledge that there were sub Glacial volcanoes is relatively new. 2008 is when the latest discovery was made. The volcano is located beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet in the Hudson Mountains . The region has many volcanic features and we may or may not know about them or their activity. How then is it possible to state without equivocation that there is no step change in geothermal energy that can account for increased melt? The area of influence of the volcano at latitude 74.6°South, longitude 97°West does not cover the entire west ice sheet. Other factors like a change in currents and sea water temperatures could account for the rest but on the whole, the entire Antarctic ice sheet is gaining mass every year according to NASA using ICESat.

  4. It’s the magnetic N pole movement causing the earth’s magma to flow differently creating more pressure on these valcanos! Its behind all of the extreme weather we have now its moving so quickly!!! Wish our scientists would wake the hell up!!!

  5. A 5 year old girl piqued my curiosity so, I recently discovered that there have been 4 “Ice ages” ( 4 + million years ago) before mankind ever entered the picture (2 million years ago). After doing the math I came to the conclusion that God has the answer as to why the earth keeps warming up every quarter million years or so. As for man causing it or thinking he knows why it happens, consider asking a woman.

  6. Bruce Frank

    Not only is the volcanic activity melting ice, but lubricating the bed so it moves. A real cataclysmic event if the glacier slid into the ocean.

  7. Gary McCollom

    Been pointing this out as well as the rapidly moving magnetic pole as being being clear causes of the rapidly changing climate of our planet.

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