The evolution and storage of primitive melts in the Eastern Volcanic Zone of Iceland: the 10 ka Grímsvötn tephra series (i.e. the Saksunarvatn ash)

The environmentally impacting AD 1783–84 Laki eruption was the largest Icelandic eruption to have been directly obseved by humans (Thordarson et al., 1996). However, it is by no means unique in Iceland’s volcanic history: Thordarson & Höskuldsson (2008) note that over 50 eruptions >1 km3 in volume have taken place in Iceland since the end of the last glaciation. The 10 ka Grímsvötn tephra series, or Saksunarvatn Ash, which is distributed across the North Atlantic from Greenland to Germany, is thought to have been generated in a series of large, phreatomagmatic eruptions within the Grímsvötn volcanic zone at the end of the last glacial period (Grönvold et al., 1995; Thordarson, 2014). In this first petrological study of the tephra, we (a team from the universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Iceland) exploited the abundance of primitive crystals and melt inclusions in samples from Lake Hvítárvatn in central Iceland in order to investigate magma evolution and storage processes.
Crystal textures in the 10 ka Grímsvötn tephra series from lake Hvítárvatn in central Iceland. a) zoning in plagioclase, b) melt inclusions in plagioclase, c) sector zoning in clinopyroxene and d) inclusions in olivine. Figure from Neave et al. (2015).

Following the approaches laid out by our recent work on Laki and Skuggafjöll, we defined evolved and primtive macrocryst assemblages in tephra samples, the latter of which was out of equilibrium with the matrix glass and probably derived from disaggregated crystal mushes (e.g., Halldorsson et al., 2008). High-anorthite plagioclase-hosted melt inclusions provided the first direct evidence for the supply of high-Mg#, incompatible trace element-depleted mantle melts to the base of the lithosphere in Iceland’s Eastern Volcanic Zone. Through the critical application of clinopyroxene-melt and melt barometers (Putirka, 2008; Yang et al., 1996) , we suggested that the primtive macrocryst assemblage formed within the mid-crust (4±1.5 kbar) and that the evolved assemblage formed in the shallow crust (<2 kbar) shortly before eruption. We showed, however, that clinopyroxene-melt equilibria are not well calibrated at conditions relevant for the tephra’s pre-eruptive storage. We therefore made the case for further exploration of basalt phase equilibria in the critical 1–7 kbar interval, which is a primary aim of my Humboldt Research Fellowship in Hannover.


Neave, D.A., Maclennan, J., Thordarson, T. & Hartley, M.E. 2015. The evolution and storage of primitive melts in the Eastern Volcanic Zone of Iceland: the 10 ka Grímsvötn tephra series (i.e. the Saksunarvatn ash). Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 171, 21. <Open Access>

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