Research Article

Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 72, Issue 1, pp 55-62

Lower-crustal earthquakes caused by magma movement beneath Askja volcano on the north Iceland rift

  • Heidi SoosaluAffiliated withBullard Laboratories, University of Cambridge Email author 
  • , Janet KeyAffiliated withBullard Laboratories, University of Cambridge
  • , Robert S. WhiteAffiliated withBullard Laboratories, University of Cambridge Email author 
  • , Clare KnoxAffiliated withBullard Laboratories, University of Cambridge
  • , Páll EinarssonAffiliated withInstitute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland
  • , Steinunn S. JakobsdóttirAffiliated withIcelandic Meteorological Office

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The lower crust of magmatically active rifts is usually too hot and ductile to allow seismicity. The Icelandic mid-Atlantic rift is characterized by high heat flow, abundant magmatism generating up to 25–30 km thick crust, and seismicity within the upper 8 km of the crust. In a 20-seismometer survey in July-August 2006 within the northern rift zone around the Askja volcano we recorded ~1700 upper-crustal earthquakes cutting off at 7–8 km depth, marking the brittle-ductile boundary. Unexpectedly, we discovered 100 small-magnitude (ML <1.5) earthquakes, occurring in swarms mostly at 14–26 km depth within the otherwise aseismic lower crust, and beneath the completely aseismic middle crust. A repeat survey during July-August 2007 yielded more than twice as many lower-crustal events. Geodetic and gravimetric data indicate melt drainage from crustal magma chambers beneath Askja. We interpret the microearthquakes to be caused by melt moving through the crust from the magma source feeding Askja. They represent bursts of magma motion opening dykes over distances of a few meters, facilitated by the extensional setting of the active rift zone.


Lower-crustal earthquakes Askja volcano Iceland Rift Magma transport Dyking Brittle failure