Tephra productivity and eruption flux of the subglacial Katla volcano, Iceland

  • Bergrún Arna ÓladóttirEmail author
  • Olgeir Sigmarsson
  • Guðrún Larsen
Research Article


The influence of the mode of magma ascent on eruption fluxes is uncertain beneath active volcanoes. To study this, the subglacial volcano Katla, Iceland, whichhas produced abundant tephra through the Holocene, has been investigated through volume estimations of the largest eruptions from the last ~ 3500 years. Tephra volume measurements allow tephra productivity and their variation through time to be estimated. By adding the volume of lava from effusive eruptions, the total eruption flux is obtained. Tephra productivity shows variations with time, ranging from 2.0 km3/century, during the prehistoric period examined, to 0.7 km3/century, during historical time (after 939 CE). However, the average eruption flux remained unchanged (~ 2.2 km3/century) during the studied ~ 3500 years due to the large lava produced during the Eldgjá flood basalt eruption (939 CE). Following the Eldgjá event, tephra production declined and also eruption frequency, decreasing from 5.6-2.0 eruptions/century. Magma ascending vertically to the glacier -covered volcano results in explosive phreatomagmatic eruptions and tephra formation, whereas magma transferred in a laterally extended dyke leads to predominant fissural eruptions outside the glacier (e.g., Eldgjá). The mode of magma ascent thus exerts control on the eruption frequency and the volcanic style at Katla volcano without affecting the long-term eruption flux. A uniform increase in cumulative magma volume from Katla suggests a time-integrated steady-state behavior over the last ~ 3500 years. Finally, although the large fissural eruption of Eldgjá lowered the following eruption frequency, it only temporarily affected the time averaged eruption flux of Katla.


Tephra productivity Eruption flux Magma storage system Tephra Katla Iceland 



We would like to thank Sigríður Björgvinsdóttir, Dominic Pyanoe, Guðmundur Óli Sigurgeirsson, Ester Anna Ingólfsdóttir, Jónas Guðnason, Esther Ruth Guðmundsdóttir, and Edda Sóley Þorsteinsdóttir for their assistance during fieldwork. We also thank Jean-Luc Devidal for his help with electron microprobe analyses in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Grants from Nordic Volcanological Center and University of Iceland Research Fund made this study possible, together with financial support through the “Volcano Anatomy” project of the Icelandic Science Fund (Rannís). David Pyle and an anonymous reviewer are acknowledged for their detailed and constructive reviews. Efficient editorial handling by the editors was appreciated.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nordic Volcanological Center, Institute of Earth SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland
  2. 2.Laboratoire Magmas et VolcansCNRS and Université Clermont AuvergneAubièreFrance

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