British volcanologists have found an unexplored chain of 12 huge, active submarine volcanoes in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean.
Several of the underwater volcanoes measure about 3km high and are dotted over an area the length of Britain, according to scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
That would make them more than three times as high as the world’s tallest building - Dubai's, Burj Khalifa – if on land rather than the sea bed.
Using echo-sounder technology, the research team aboard the RRS James Clark Ross also found 5km diameter craters in the waters around the South Sandwich Islands – 1,500km east of the tip of South America – left by collapsing volcanoes.
Seven active volcanoes are said to be visible above the sea as a chain of islands, after mapping them at high resolution during two research expeditions.
Talking about the initial discovery with Yahoo! News, Dr Phil Leat from the BAS said:
“It was amazing to see the images of volcanoes rising up appearing on the screens. We didn’t want to go to sleep and all wanted to wake up early. The feeling was really one of excitement as we never knew what we were going to find next.”
He added that the conical-shaped volcanoes strongly suggest signs of recent eruption, with one eruption forming the chain of seven islands about fifty years ago.
Although submarine eruptions can cause tsunamis, the risk of disruption to world coastlines is low due to their remote location.
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Dr Leat explained what the discovery meant at an international symposium held in Edinburgh on Monday: “The technologies that scientists can now use from ships not only give us an opportunity to piece together the story of the evolution of our Earth, but they also help shed new light on the development of natural events that pose hazards for people living in more populated regions on the planet.”