Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 55, Issue 1–2, pp 17–24 | Cite as

Subsidence of Surtsey volcano, 1967–1991

  • James G Moore
  • Sveinn Jakobsson
  • Josef Holmjarn


The Surtsey marine volcano was built on the southern insular shelf of Iceland, along the seaward extension of the east volcanic zone, during episodic explosive and effusive activity from 1963 to 1967. A 1600-m-long, east-west line of 42 bench marks was established across the island shortly after volcanic activity stopped. From 1967 to 1991 a series of leveling surveys measured the relative elevation of the original bench marks, as well as additional bench marks installed in 1979, 1982 and 1985. Concurrent measurements were made of water levels in a pit dug on the north coast, in a drill hole, and along the coastline exposed to the open ocean. These surveys indicate that the dominant vertical movement of Surtsey is a general subsidence of about 1.1±0.3 m during the 24-year period of observations. The rate of subsidence decreased from 15–20 cm/year for 1967–1968 to 1–2 cm/year in 1991. Greatest subsidence is centered about the eastern vent area. Through 1970, subsidence was locally greatest where the lava plain is thinnest, adjacent to the flanks of the eastern tephra cone. From 1982 onward, the region closest to the hydrothermal zone, which is best developed in the vicinity of the eastern vent, began showing less subsidence relative to the rest of the surveyed bench marks. The general subsidence of the island probably results from compaction of the volcanic material comprising Surtsey, compaction of the sea-floor sediments underlying the island, and possibly downwarping of the lithosphere due to the laod of Surtsey. The more localized early downwarping near the eastern tephra cone is apparently due to greater compaction of tephra relative to lava. The later diminished local subsidence near the hydrothermal zone is probably due to a minor volume increase caused by hydrous alteration of glassy tephra. However, this volume increase is concentrated at depth beneath the bottom of the 176-m-deep cased drillhole.


Compaction Lithosphere Tephra Bench Mark Effusive Activity 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • James G Moore
    • 1
  • Sveinn Jakobsson
    • 2
  • Josef Holmjarn
    • 3
  1. 1.US Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA
  2. 2.Icelandic Museum of Natural HistoryReykjavik
  3. 3.Icelandic Energy AuthorityReykjavik

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