Effects of the Hekla 4 tephra on vegetation in Northwest Iceland

  • Sigrún Dögg Eddudóttir
  • Egill Erlendsson
  • Guðrún Gísladóttir
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00334-017-0603-5

Cite this article as:
Eddudóttir, S.D., Erlendsson, E. & Gísladóttir, G. Veget Hist Archaeobot (2017). doi:10.1007/s00334-017-0603-5


Vegetation plays a key role in preventing the remobilisation of tephra and aeolian activity following tephra fall. Recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland have highlighted the consequences of tephra fall for ecosystems and human health. Improved understanding of the mechanisms behind ecosystem recovery following tephra fall is particularly important for Iceland. Today ~42% of the country is classified as desert and unvegetated and sparsely vegetated areas are unable to trap tephra fall and prevent subsequent wind erosion. This paper presents palaeoenvironmental reconstructions before and after the Hekla 4 tephra from two lakes in Northwest Iceland, from within a woodland in the lowland, and in open woodland under stress at the highland margin. The c. 4,200 cal bp. Hekla 4 tephra is one of the most extensive Icelandic Holocene tephra layers and the eruption produced an estimated ~9 km3 of tephra. The palaeoecological reconstructions provide an insight into the responses of two relatively stable ecosystems to thick tephra deposits during a period of cooling climate. The understory vegetation in the lowland woodland was buried by the tephra, however Betula pubescens trees were not severely affected and the woodland recovered relatively quickly. In contrast, open woodland at the highland margin that was already at its ecological limit, shifted to dwarf shrub heath, a more resilient vegetation community in response to the tephra fall and cooling climate.


Tephra Vegetation Pollen Iceland Hekla Betula pubescens 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland
  2. 2.Institute of Earth SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland

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