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New Layer of Earth Grows Beneath Icelandic Volcano

Dec 15, 2014 05:53 PM EST
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Bárðarbunga volcano
A new layer of Earth is growing beneath an Icelandic volcano, shedding light on how the Earth's crust forms, according to a new study.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

A new layer of Earth is growing beneath an Icelandic volcano, shedding light on how the Earth's crust forms, according to a new study.

The Bárðarbunga volcano, buried beneath Iceland's Vatnajökull ice cap, reawakened just this past August, its flows of molten hot magma cascading away from the site and creating dykes, which force the surrounding rock apart.

"New crust forms where two tectonic plates are moving away from each other," study co-author Andy Hooper from the Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET) at the University of Leeds, explained in a statement.

This is the first time scientists can observe these vertical sheet-like features form since the phenomenon usually happens beneath the oceans. But now the Icelandic volcano has given researchers an opportunity to study new crust arising before their eyes, using tools like GPS and satellite radar.

"Our observations of this event showed that the magma injected into the crust took an incredibly roundabout path and proceeded in fits and starts," Hooper said.

"Initially we were surprised at this complexity, but it turns out we can explain all the twists and turns with a relatively simple model, which considers just the pressure of rock and ice above, and the pull exerted by the plates moving apart," he added.

Bárðarbunga has had a long history of eruptions, with the indecisive volcano erupting on and off starting in August, and continuing on into September as toxic fumes spread across the country and into new regions. More than 22,000 earthquakes were recorded in or around the volcano in just four weeks, due to stress being released as magma forced its way through the rock.

The research team tracked the path of the magma for over 45 kilometers (28 miles), showing dyke formation as magma reached natural barriers and experienced a build-up of pressure, creating a new segment of Earth's crust.

The findings are described further in the journal Nature.

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