Icelandic project to study impact of ice retreat on seismic activity

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Researchers from the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) will undertake a new project to explore the effects of climate change-induced ice retreat on seismic and volcanic activity, thanks to an ISK 57m (US$393,000) grant from the Icelandic Research Fund.

Glaciers in Iceland have been retreating since 1890 and climate change simulations predict that most of them may disappear within a few hundred years. Retreating ice caps have a large influence on the crust of the Earth and cause ground uplift – a rebound effect resulting from the unloading of the glaciers due to ice loss.

Glacier-covered volcanic systems are most affected, but also crustal conditions outside glaciers. Eruption activity may increase, as occurred during the Pleistocene deglaciation. Uncertainty remains as to if, how and when this new magma reaches the surface, whether the stability of existing magma bodies is modified, if deglaciation is already resulting in the accumulation of larger volumes of melt within crustal reservoirs, and how induced variations in the stress field may affect future volcanic and seismic activity.

Dr Michelle Maree Parks, a specialist in volcano deformation studies at IMO, together with Freysteinn Sigmundsson, a geophysicist at the Nordic Volcanological Center at the Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, will lead the project in answering these questions. They will together form a large international team of scientists to carry out research on glacial isostatic adjustment due to present-day glacier change and its effect on the Earth’s crust, in particular at four volcanic systems and two seismic zones in Iceland.

The ISVOLC project will use new models of glacier variations in Iceland during the past century and scenarios for continued glacial retreat to estimate the influence of glacial retreat on crustal movements and new melt accumulation beneath Iceland. Uplift due to glacial isostatic adjustment caused by glacier retreat since 1890 is already causing over 20mm annual uplift over large areas near the Vatnajökull ice cap and influencing all of Iceland and more melt is being generated at depth because of glacially induced pressure changes. The influence of these processes on eruptive activity and earthquakes in Iceland will be evaluated to improve understanding of natural hazards.

Parks said, “This grant opens new possibilities to improve our understanding of the influence of climate change on the Earth processes. The goal is also to estimate the influence of retreating ice caps on the stability of magma chambers [which]may then influence how we monitor volcanoes and respond to eruptions.”

Freysteinn added, “This is an exciting and important research project because the influence of climate change is widespread in nature, including influence deep into the Earth.”

The project adds to ongoing extensive collaboration between the IMO and the University of Iceland and provides new opportunities for PhD students and young scientists to participate in that collaboration.

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Dan first joined UKi Media & Events in 2014 having spent the early years of his career in the recruitment industry. As editor, he now produces content for Meteorological Technology International, unearthing the latest technological advances and research methods for the publication of each exciting new issue. When he’s not reporting on the latest meteorological news, Dan can be found on the golf course or apprehensively planning his next DIY project.

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