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Bull Volcanol (1992) 54:385-392

Vol(a olog
9 Springer-Verlag 1992

Effect of glacier loading/deloading on volcanism:

postglacial volcanic production rate
of the Dyngjufjiill area, central Iceland
Gudmundur E Sigvaldason, Kristian Annertz*, and Magnus Nilsson*
Nordic Volcanological Institute, University of Iceland, Iceland

Received January 17, 1991/Accepted November 18, 1991

Abstract. Tephrochronological dating of postglacial canism, and he called for detailed studies of the vol-
volcanism in the Dyngjufjrll volcanic complex, a major canic record in deep-sea drill cores. Ninkovich and
spreading center in the Icelandic Rift Zone, indicates a Donn (1976) could not find any correlation between the
high production rate in the millennia following degla- frequency of occurrence of ash layers in deep-sea drill
ciation as compared to the present low productivity. cores and climatic changes during Cenozoic times.
The visible and implied evidence indicates that lava The reverse argument - that volcanism might initiate
production in the period 10000-4500 aP was at least 20 glaciations - has also been extensively discussed in the
to 30 times higher than that in the period after 2900 BP literature (Bray 1974, 1976, 1977; Rampino et al.
but the results are biased towards lower values for lava 1979).
volumes during the earlier age periods since multiple Rampino et al. (1979) recognized that some large
lava layers are buried beneath younger flows. The eruptions do occur at times of global cooling and asked
higher production rate during the earlier period coin- the question whether such climatic changes might trig-
cides with the disappearance of glaciers of the last gla- ger explosive eruptions, possibly in connection with
ciation. Decreasing lithostatic pressure as the glacier isostatic adjustment accompanying the global redistri-
melts and vigorous crustal movements caused by rapid bution of water.
isostatic rebound may trigger intense volcanism until a Global cooling causing sea-level draw-down of up to
new pressure equilibrium has been established. 100 m may have triggered voluminous ring fracture
eruptions on the island of Pantelleria (Mahood and
Wallmann 1985; Wallmann et al. 1988), while global
warming, causing the melting of a thick cap of the last
Introduction glaciations may have initiated intense volcanic activity
The ability of a magmatic liquid to break its subsurface in Iceland (Sigvaldason 1986; Gudmundsson 1986; Sej-
container and appear on the surface in a volcanic erup- rup et al. 1989). While eustatic sea-level draw-down is
tion depends on the balance between the magmatic relatively small as compared to the large pressure in-
pressure potential and the lithostatic pressure on the crease due to ice accumulation in polar and subpolar
roof of the magma chamber. When the magmatic pres- areas during glaciations, volcanic areas located beneath
sure is equal to the lithostatic pressure an increase in the glacier ice would be maximally affected by pressure
the former or a small drop in the latter may result in an changes caused by the redistribution of water. Evidence
eruption. Thorarinsson (1953) suggested that a pressure for a correlation between volcanism and glaciations
drop caused by the removal of a 100-m-deep glacier may be present in the geological record of Iceland
meltwater lake from the ice-dammed Grimsvrtn cal- where intensive volcanism occurs, as well as accumula-
dera in Iceland triggered eruptions of the type that tion of thick inland ice during glaciations.
sometimes accompany glacier bursts. Matthews (1969) The present paper reports variable volcanic produc-
discussed the tectonic implications of eustatic sea level tivity in part of the the Northern Rift Zone in Iceland
changes and suggested that unloading of the ocean ba- in postglacial time and relates this to the glacial re-
sin during glaciation might cause upward movement of bound after the last glaciation.
magma leading to volcanism periodic with glaciations.
Chappel (1975) doubted, but does not exclude, the
possibility that eustatic changes might modulate vol- Geologic background

* Present address: Institute of Geology, University of Lund, Srl- The Dyngjufjrll volcanic center, with the Askja caldera
vegatan 13, S-22362 Lund, Sweden is located on one of five major fissure systems of the

/' rl ir

'~,~*'~ Fig.2 ~ /
,I~V'~4, ", i !~i~q
i ' ', i ,4

Fig. 1. The fissure systems
(shaded) and volcanic centers (cir

Northern Rift Zone of Iceland, (Fig. 1), (S~emundsson and tephra from volcanoes in other parts of the coun-
1979). The Dyngjufj611 fissure system is approximately try. Lava contours are, however, distinct on aerial pho-
100 km long and 20 km wide. Volcanic activity has been tographs which were used to map the lava distribution
most intense in the southern part of the system where (Fig. 2).
volcanic products have piled up to form the Dyngju- Four dated silicic tephra layers from Hekla volcano
fj611 volcanic center. In close proximity to the volcanic in south Iceland were deposited in northeast Iceland
center are several lava shields, each representing a vol- (Thorarinsson 1967, 1971; Larsen and Thorarinsson
canic episode producing several cubic kilometers of 1977; Larsen 1982). Furthermore a silicic tephra layer
lava (Fig. 2). Where topography allows, the area is cov- from Or~efaj6kull in southeast Iceland (Thorarinsson
ered by recent lava flows. Several eruptions have been 1958) and a basaltic tephra layer (Benjaminsson 1981)
reported in this area in the past centuries, but without from the Veidiv6tn fissure (Larsen 1982 and personal
specifying the exact location of the volcanic vents due communication) are found in the area (Fig. 1, Table
to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area. 1).
The first historic volcanic event recorded with cer- Preservation of tephra layers is variable. Soil sec-
tainty in the Dyngjufj611 area was the plinian eruption tions containing all the above tephra layers are rare.
of 1875, which produced about 2 km 3 of silicic tephra The individual Hekla layers are difficult to identify in
(0.5 km 3 DRE), (Thorarinsson 1963; Sigvaldason 1979; the field, but the 0r~efaj6kull tephra and the Veidiv6tn
Sparks et al. 1981; Sigurdsson and Sparks 1981). A few tephra have distinct macroscopic characteristics. It was
small basaltic eruptions occurred between 1920 and therefore necessary to apply laboratory studies for
1930 as well as one eruption in 1961 (Thorarinsson and identification of the Hekla layers. Grain-size analysis
Sigvaldason 1962). Silicic eruptions are rare in the fis- and microsopce criteria did not prove sufficiently dis-
sure system and the total amount of silicic products in tinctive but chemical analysis of glass fragments by mi-
the area is less than 1%. All products referred to in this croprobe gave satisfactory results.
paper are basaltic lavas ranging in composition from During one eruption the chemical composition of
olivine tholeiites to quartz tholeiites. Olivine tholeiites the Hekla tephra changes with time, and a similar com-
predominate in lava shields while quartz tholeiites are positional pattern is repeated from one eruption to an-
commonly produced in fissure eruptions within or in other (Thorarinsson 1967; Sigvaldason 1974b). Rapid
close proximity to the volcanic center. The chemical shifts in wind direction in Iceland make it likely that
composition of lavas in the area was described by Sig-
valdason (1974a).
Fig. 2. The Dyngjufj611volcanic center; 1, Shield lavas >4500
B.P.; 2, Fissure lavas >4500 B.P.; 3, Shield lavas >3500<4500
Dating of lavas B.P.; 4, Fissure lavas >3500<4500 B.P.; 5, Shield lavas
>2900<3500 B.P.; 6, Fissure lavas >2900<3500 B.P.; 7, Inter-
The surface of the area is covered with debris from ex- glacial lava shield; 8, Fissure lavas >AD 1477<2900 B.P.; 9, Fis-
plosive volcanic activity within the Dyngjufj611 center sure lavas <AD 1920; 10, Hyaloclastite