Research on Iceland's volcanic history published by two leading journals

Research into the history of Iceland’s major volcanic eruptions by Swansea University climate change scientist Dr Siwan Davies has been published in two leading journals – the Journal of Quaternary Science and Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Dr Davies was invited to submit a paper to the Journal of Quaternary Science in April 2010, which was fast-tracked for publication last month as a result of the Eyjaföll eruption.

The paper, entitled ‘Widespread dispersal of Icelandic tephra: how does the Eyjaföll eruption of 2010 compare to past Icelandic events?’ adopts a long-term perspective to provide a review of the initial Eyjaföll eruption.

The research focuses on past events in other Icelandic volcanic systems that have produced large eruptive volumes resulting in widespread ash dispersal in the atmosphere across mainland Europe.

The research was published in collaboration with academics from the Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland; the Iceland Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University; the School of Geography, University of Exeter; the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast; and the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh.

Dr Davies, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Environment and Society’s Department of Geography, said: “In comparison to some of the most explosive and voluminous eruptions that have taken place in the past, such as the so-called super eruption Tambora, which occurred in AD 1815, the Eyjaföll eruption was relatively modest.

“Neither the ash volume produced nor the dispersal patterns observed were particularly unusual for Icelandic eruptions. However, the event highlights that the weather patterns at the time of eruption play a critical role in the transportation and deposition of ash.

“My paper concludes that although geological evidence can provide a general indication of how frequent volcanic events have occurred in the past, it is far more complex to predict the likelihood of similar eruptions in the future because of the critical role of weather patterns.

“This year’s Eyjaföll eruption, which led to widespread and unprecedented disruption to air travel over Europe, highlights our increased vulnerability to natural hazards rather than the unparalleled explosivity of the event.”

The Journal of Quaternary Science invitation followed Dr Davies’s earlier publication of another paper in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, entitled ‘Tracing volcanic events in the NGRIP ice-core and synchronising North Atlantic marine records during the last glacial period’.

The paper describes work on the Greenland ice-cores and the identification of five ash layers between 26,000 and 42,000 years ago, four of which are previously unknown eruptions, which add to our understanding of volcanic history in Iceland.

The research was carried out in collaboration with academics from the Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University; the Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Venice; the Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes-CNR, University Ca'Foscari of Venice; the Physics Institute, Climate and Environmental Physics and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Switzerland; the Ice and Climate group, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, and the Department of Geology, University of Tromsø, Norway.

To read the research papers in full visit the Journal of Quaternary Science and Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

In addition to her role at Swansea University, Dr Davies is currently President of the INQUA (International Quaternary Union Association) International focus group on Tephrochronology and Volcanism (INTAV). For more information visit http://www.inqua.tcd.ie/.   

This news item has been generated by Bethan Evans and Katy Drane, Swansea University Public Relations Office, Tel: 01792 295049 or email
b.w.evans@swansea.ac.uk, or Tel: 01792 602993 or email k.drane@swansea.ac.uk