Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 389–402 | Cite as

Effects of the Hekla 4 tephra on vegetation in Northwest Iceland

  • Sigrún Dögg EddudóttirEmail author
  • Egill Erlendsson
  • Guðrún Gísladóttir
Original Article


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 



The authors would like to thank Höskuldur Þorbjarnarson, Ólafur Eggertsson and Þorsteinn Jónsson for assistance in the field. Scott John Riddell is thanked for proofreading the manuscript. We would like to thank Olga Kolbrún Vilmundardóttir and Friðþór Sófus Sigurmundsson for useful discussions on plant ecology and the effects of tephra on vegetation. We are grateful for the comments of two anonymous reviewers that helped improve the manuscript. The Blönduvirkjun hydropower plant hosted us during fieldwork. The research was supported by the Landsvirkjun Energy Research Fund, the University of Iceland Eimskip Fund, the University of Iceland Research Fund, and the Icelandic Research Fund (grant no. 141842-051).


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© 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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