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Dike emplacement at Bardarbunga, Iceland, induces unusual stress changes, caldera deformation, and earthquakes


A 45-km-long regional dike was emplaced over a period of 2 weeks in August 2014 at the boundary between the East and North Volcanic Zones in Iceland. This is the first regional dike emplacement in Iceland monitored with modern geophysical networks, the importance of which relates to regional dikes feeding most of the large fissure (e.g., Eldgja 934 and Laki 1783) and lava shield (e.g. early Holocene Skjaldbreidur and Trölladyngja) eruptions. During this time, the dike generated some 17,000 earthquakes, more than produced in Iceland as a whole over a normal year. The dike initiated close to the Bardarbunga Volcano but gradually extended to the northeast until it crossed the boundary between the East Volcanic Zone (EVZ) and the North Volcanic Zone (NVZ). We infer that the strike of the dike changes abruptly at a point, from about N45°E (coinciding with the trend of the EVZ) to N15°E (coinciding with the trend of the NVZ). This change in strike occurs at latitude 64.7°, exactly the same latitude at which about 10 Ma dikes in East Iceland change strike in a similar way. This suggests that the change in the regional stress field from the southern to the northern part of Iceland has been maintained at this latitude for 10 million years. Analytical and numerical models indicate that the dike-induced stress field results in stress concentration around faults and particularly shallow magma chambers and calderas in its vicinity, such as Tungnafellsjökull, Kverkfjöll, and Askja. In particular, the dike has induced high compressive, shear, and tensile stresses at the location of the Bardarbunga shallow chamber and (caldera) ring-fault where numerous earthquakes occurred during the dike emplacement, many of which have exceeded M5 (the largest M5.7). The first segment of the dike induced high tensile stresses in the nearby part of the Bardarbunga magma chamber/ring-fault resulting in radially outward injection of a dike from the chamber at a high angle to the strike of the regional dike. The location of maximum stress at Bardarbunga fluctuates along the chamber/ring-fault boundary in harmony with dike size and/or pressure changes and encourages ring-dike formation and associated magma flow within the chamber. Caldera collapse and/or eruption in some of these volcanoes is possible, most likely in Bardarbunga, but depends largely on the future development of the regional dike.

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We thank the Iceland Meteorological Office, in particular the SIL-seismic monitoring group, for making earthquake data available for this study. These outstanding data and the SIL-network have opened up entirely new possibilities for detailed quantitative volcano-tectonic studies in Iceland. AG also thanks Ari Trausti Gudmundsson for fruitful discussions about this volcano-tectonic episode. We thank the BV reviewers, in particular the Editor, James White, for very helpful comments that significantly improved the paper.

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Correspondence to Agust Gudmundsson.

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Editorial responsibility: J.D.L. White

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Gudmundsson, A., Lecoeur, N., Mohajeri, N. et al. Dike emplacement at Bardarbunga, Iceland, induces unusual stress changes, caldera deformation, and earthquakes. Bull Volcanol 76, 869 (2014).

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  • Crustal stresses
  • Dike propagation
  • Feeder dike
  • Volcano deformation
  • Volcano earthquakes
  • Calderas