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Seismic detection of an active subglacial magmatic complex in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica

Abstract

Numerous volcanoes exist in Marie Byrd Land, a highland region of West Antarctica. High heat flow through the crust in this region may influence the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet1,2,3,4. Volcanic activity progressed from north to south in the Executive Committee mountain range between the Miocene and Holocene epochs, but there has been no evidence for recent magmatic activity5,6,7. Here we use a recently deployed seismic network to show that in 2010 and 2011, two swarms of seismic activity occurred at 25–40 km depth beneath subglacial topographic and magnetic highs, located 55 km south of the youngest subaerial volcano in the Executive Committee Range. We interpret the swarm events as deep long-period earthquakes based on their unusual frequency content. Such earthquakes occur beneath active volcanoes, are caused by deep magmatic activity and, in some cases, precede eruptions8,9,10,11. We also use radar profiles to identify a prominent ash layer in the ice overlying the seismic swarm. Located at 1,400 m depth, the ash layer is about 8,000 years old and was probably sourced from the nearby Mount Waesche volcano. Together, these observations provide strong evidence for ongoing magmatic activity and demonstrate that volcanism continues to migrate southwards along the Executive Committee Range. Eruptions at this site are unlikely to penetrate the 1.2 to 2-km-thick overlying ice, but would generate large volumes of melt water that could significantly affect ice stream flow.

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Figure 1: Summary of ECR volcanic and seismic activity.
Figure 2: Comparison of spectral character of DLP and non-DLP events.
Figure 3: Radar data showing ice thickness and ash layer.

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Acknowledgements

POLENET-Antarctica is supported by NSF Office of Polar Programs grant numbers 0632230, 0632239, 0652322, 0632335, 0632136, 0632209 and 0632185. GIMBLE is supported by NSF grant 1043761. Seismic instrumentation provided and supported by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) through the PASSCAL Instrument Center at New Mexico Tech. Seismic data are available through the IRIS Data Management Center. The facilities of the IRIS Consortium are supported by the NSF under Cooperative Agreement EAR-1063471, the NSF Office of Polar Programs and the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration. This is UTIG contribution 2589.

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A.C.L. carried out initial locations and relative relocations on all DLP events used and carried out statistical and spectral analysis on DLP events. C.G.B. reviewed automatic detection locations and located all non-DLP events. R.C.A. carried out waveform cross-correlations. D.A.Y. and D.D.B. reviewed all radar and magnetics data and provided radar profiles shown in the figures. All authors contributed comments to the interpretation of results and preparation of the final paper.

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Correspondence to Amanda C. Lough.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Lough, A., Wiens, D., Grace Barcheck, C. et al. Seismic detection of an active subglacial magmatic complex in Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica. Nature Geosci 6, 1031–1035 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1992

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