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Icelandic Volcanoes: Interactions Between Volcanoes, Ice and Atmosphere

January's Shell London lecture, delivered by Thor Thordarsen (Edinburgh University) at the Geological Society on 19 January 2011.

Iceland is one of the most active volcanic regions in the world, with over 20 eruptions each century producing more than 5.5 cubic kilometers of magma. In early 2010, the UK experienced the effects of Iceland’s volatile landscape when the volcanic plume produced by Eyjafjallajökull caused ash to reach the air space of the UK and mainland Europe.

It is the interaction between fire and ice which makes Iceland’s eruptions so spectacular – many eruptions occur beneath glaciers, which contains the pressure of an eruption until it becomes great enough to cause an explosion of magma and steam. Contact between magma and ice causes the magma to cool rapidly to form glass-type needles – the reason aircraft were grounded.

Icelandic volcanoes have been active for many thousands of years, and will continue to be so in the future. This talk will explore the mechanism of the eruptions and their effects, not only on the country itself, but further afield.


Thor Thordarson


Dr Thorvaldur Thordarson is a Reader in Physical Volcanology and Natural Hazards in the Earth and Planetary Science Group at the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh. Thordarson’s expertise in hot spot and arc volcanism is coupled with research on Archaean volcanic systems. He has been involved in wide-ranging research on volcanism and volcanic hazards, including volcano monitoring and surveillance in Iceland and New Zealand and industry-linked research on magmatic ore deposits in Australia. Thordarson has studied Icelandic volcanoes for >25 years and has been instrumental in research on the physical volcanology of effusive and explosive eruptions including their environmental and climatic effects. He is the world’s leading expert on the 1783-84 Laki eruption with 23 papers published on different aspects of the eruption.

He is a member of the British Government Scientific Advisory Committees on Icelandic volcanic ash emergencies. Thordarson has more than 80 publications, thereof 73 paper and 3 books concerning various aspects of physical volcanology and volcano-climate interactions.