Intrusion triggering of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull explosive eruption

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Abstract

Gradual inflation of magma chambers often precedes eruptions at highly active volcanoes. During such eruptions, rapid deflation occurs as magma flows out and pressure is reduced1,2,3. Less is known about the deformation style at moderately active volcanoes, such as Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, where an explosive summit eruption of trachyandesite beginning on 14 April 2010 caused exceptional disruption to air traffic, closing airspace over much of Europe for days. This eruption was preceded by an effusive flank eruption of basalt from 20 March to 12 April 2010. The 2010 eruptions are the culmination of 18 years of intermittent volcanic unrest4,5,6,7,8,9. Here we show that deformation associated with the eruptions was unusual because it did not relate to pressure changes within a single magma chamber. Deformation was rapid before the first eruption (>5 mm per day after 4 March), but negligible during it. Lack of distinct co-eruptive deflation indicates that the net volume of magma drained from shallow depth during this eruption was small; rather, magma flowed from considerable depth. Before the eruption, a 0.05 km3 magmatic intrusion grew over a period of three months, in a temporally and spatially complex manner, as revealed by GPS (Global Positioning System) geodetic measurements and interferometric analysis of satellite radar images. The second eruption occurred within the ice-capped caldera of the volcano, with explosivity amplified by magma–ice interaction. Gradual contraction of a source, distinct from the pre-eruptive inflation sources, is evident from geodetic data. Eyjafjallajökull’s behaviour can be attributed to its off-rift setting with a ‘cold’ subsurface structure and limited magma at shallow depth, as may be typical for moderately active volcanoes. Clear signs of volcanic unrest signals over years to weeks may indicate reawakening of such volcanoes, whereas immediate short-term eruption precursors may be subtle and difficult to detect.

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Figure 1: Iceland and the location of Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
Figure 2: InSAR, GPS and seismic data at Eyjafjallajökull.
Figure 3: Inferred sources of deformation from ‘hydrostatic crack’ models with variable opening, shown in map view, together with a cross-section of the summit area.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the efforts of Th. Jónsson, J. Hólmjárn, S. Steinthórsson, H. Ólafsson, Th. Ingvarsson and B. Brandsdóttir in making field operations run smoothly, as well as consultation and discussions with the staff of our institutes. We thank P. Segall and C. Wicks for comments on the manuscript, and NASA/GSFC for use of the MODIS image. Financial support for this work was received from the Icelandic Research Fund, the research fund at the University of Iceland, and the US National Science Foundation (grant EAR 1042103). Funds were received for hazard mitigation from the Icelandic government. We thank the Geodesy Laboratory at the University of Arizona for computing facilities and UNAVCO for technical support. GMT public domain software was used for some figures. TerraSAR-X data were provided by the German Space Agency under project number GEO0609.

Author information

F.S. coordinated the writing of the paper and the research it is based on; S.H. and F.S. supervised the installation of new semi-continuous GPS stations; A.H. formed the interferograms and modelled the joint geodetic dataset; S.H. analysed the GPS data and produced the GPS time series; T.Á. modelled the GPS displacements; A.H., F.S., K.L.F. and R.P. planned the InSAR data acquisitions; S.H., M.J.R., A.A., H.G., M.H., B.G.Ó., H.S., E.S., P.E. and F.S. did the GPS measurements; N.Ó. conducted the geochemical analysis; P.E. has been involved in monitoring the volcano since 1971; M.J.R., S.H., R.P., P.E., N.Ó and F.S. were involved in daily monitoring of the eruptive activity; J.D. unwrapped the interferograms; K.L.F. formed additional interferograms and modelled them; A.H., R.P., S.H. and J.D. produced the figures; F.S., A.H., S.H., T.Á., R.P., N.Ó, P.E. and K.L.F. led the writing of the paper, with all authors commenting on and discussing its results.

Correspondence to Freysteinn Sigmundsson.

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Sigmundsson, F., Hreinsdóttir, S., Hooper, A. et al. Intrusion triggering of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull explosive eruption. Nature 468, 426–430 (2010) doi:10.1038/nature09558

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