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Ice-confined construction of a large basaltic volcano—Austurfjöll massif, Askja, Iceland

Abstract

Austurfjöll is the largest basaltic glaciovolcanic massif at Askja volcano (Central Iceland), and through detailed studies of its volcanological and geochemical characteristics, we provide a detailed account of the sequence and structure of the ice-confined construction of a large Icelandic basaltic volcano. In particular, Austurfjöll represents a geometry of vents, and resulting glaciovolcanic morphology, not previously documented in ice-confined basaltic volcanoes. Austurfjöll was constructed during two major phases of basaltic volcanism, via seven eruptive episodes through disperse fissure-dominated eruptions. The earliest episode involved a rare and poorly exposed example of subaerial activity, and this was succeeded by six episodes involving the eruption of ice-confined pillow lavas and numerous overlapping fissure eruptions of phreatomagmatic tephra. Evidence of local subaerial lavas and tephras indicates the local growth of eruptive centers above englacial lake levels, and subsequent flooding, but no prolonged subaerial activity. Localized ice-contact facies, paleowater levels, and diamictons indicate the position and thickness of the ice was variable during the construction of Austurfjöll, and eruptive activity likely occurred in multiple and variable level meltwater lakes during the last glacial period. Lithofacies evidence including gradational transitions from effusive to explosive deposits, superposition of fragmental facies above coherent facies, and drainage channels suggest that changes in eruptive style were driven largely by external factors such as drainage and the increasing elevation of the massif. This study emphasizes the unique character of Austurfjöll, being composed of large pillow lava sheets, numerous (> 40) overlapping glaciovolcanic tindars, and only localized emergent deposits, as a product of its prolonged ice-confined eruptive history, contrasts with previous descriptions of tuyas and tindars.

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Acknowledgments

Our gratitude goes to Haskolí Islands, NORVOLK, and the Vatnajökull National Park, for field logistics and permits. Field assistance from Robin Wham, Rachel Lee, Antonia Lema, Kevin Reath, and Mary Kate Ellis was invaluable. Comments by K. Russell, an anonymous reviewer, and the editors greatly improved the manuscript.

Funding

This work was made possible by a National Science Foundation grant to IPS, DMcG, and AH (Award number 0910526).

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Graettinger, A.H., McGarvie, D.W., Skilling, I.P. et al. Ice-confined construction of a large basaltic volcano—Austurfjöll massif, Askja, Iceland. Bull Volcanol 81, 9 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-019-1269-x

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Keywords

  • Askja
  • Glaciovolcanism
  • Ice-confined
  • Tindar
  • Pillow lava
  • Last glacial maximum