The Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland has finally let off some steam after months of increasingly severe and destructive earthquakes.
The isolated valley of Geldingadalir was rocked by lava on March 19, marking the first time in 800 years that an eruption had shaken this southwesterly sliver of land.
More than 30,000 earthquakes hit Iceland's southwest corner in March. Some of the vibrations were barely a few seconds long. Others registered a magnitude of 5.4 on the Richter scale.
On March 19, volcanologists announced that the world's newest volcano had erupted, marking the first volcanic eruption on this stretch of land in 800 years. Scientists hurried to get to the location as soon as possible. Because the eruption was only 20 miles from Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, scientists could capture data usually lost at more dangerous or remote eruptions.
Volcanologists are ecstatic, but this show is more than simply a chance to peer into Iceland's boiling depths. It's also a portal to a completely different planet. Christopher Hamilton, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, remarked, "The eruption is, in my opinion, a perfect model for Mars."
Mars is undeniably a volcanic planet. It constructed massive volcanoes that damaged the Earth's surface in its early centuries. They tipped the world as a whole over by 20 degrees at one point.
*Although its volcanic output diminished over time, Mars continued to erupt tiny volcanoes and spew lava for most of its existence. It may be still volcanically active today, with magma gurgling beneath the surface, preparing for a future eruption.
However, little is known about the origins, evolution, and behavior of Mars' volcanism, which is one of the reasons why experts are eager to utilize the Geldingadalir eruption as a model.
Parts of the Martian surface were crushed together while others were driven apart when massive volcanic provinces formed and the world cooled and shrunk. Martian magma erupted from fractures in places where the crust fractured.
Compared to the Icelandic Eruption
A fissure was also the source of the Geldingadalir eruption. Lava has been steadily pouring out of an irregularly shaped cone for the past two weeks, slowly filling the valley. Then, on April 5, a second fissure - likely the first of many to come - opened up immediately north of the first, releasing its fountains and rivers of lava, as is typical for this type of eruption on Earth and Mars.
The peninsula's location atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the volcanic rift that pushes the Americas away from Europe and Africa, allowed for this miniature eruption. In addition, the violent tectonic tremors that preceded the eruption suggest that it acquired a temporary speed boost, allowing magma to make incursions into the new voids within the shallow crust.
If the magma conduit remains open, the Geldingadalir eruption could form a small shield volcano, a magmatic mound with a very low-angle slope. According to Hamilton, such a structure would be comparable to those seen across Mars, which means scientists may observe one grow on Earth in real-time if this eruption occurs.
The eruption involves basalt, a magma with a honeylike viscosity, which is another connection to Mars. Many volcanoes produce basalt, but the magma from the Geldingadalir eruption is remarkably fluid. Its magma is rushing up from the mantle and through the crust at breakneck speed.
A planetary volcanologist at the University at Buffalo, Tracy Gregg, said it "didn't halt too much on its trip to the surface." "It came into being, and then it needed to go somewhere and do something."
The presence of a very fluid variant of basalt in Martian eruptions suggests that its volcanoes may have had Icelandic-style plumbing at periods.
The most intriguing link between Mars and Iceland is how their volcanic activity may affect life.
There were several eruptions on Mars where magma collided with ice. Iceland is also the place to go if you want to see what occurs when lava meets ice. Arola Moreras Marti, a researcher at the University of St. Andrews who researches biosignatures on Mars, stated, "Iceland is a wonderful area and one of the greatest parallels for Mars we have on Earth."
Long ago, the Martian surface was a radioactive desert unfit for life. But what is happening now at Geldingadalir happened on Mars, and it may still be happening. Underground hydrothermal networks have formed anywhere hot rock meets water during the last 4.5 billion years. These subterranean hideaways would be reasonably livable habitats since they would be protected from the lethal radiation blasting their surface.
When Mars was young, it was also wetter, with a thicker radiation-blocking atmosphere. So microbes might have existed on the surface a long time ago.
However, there is one significant difference: the size of the occurrences. The lava flows on Mars were awe-inspiringly prolific, with enough lava to bury a continent the size of the United Kingdom is only a few weeks. According to Tobias Dürig, a volcanologist at the University of Iceland, the Geldingadalir eruption is a "model-scale lava field." It's a tiny Martian explosion.
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