Scientific communication and “diamonds” on Flinders Island, Tasmania

Intro: Science is pretty cool, and so is being a scientist. This is what I (and most other scientists) think at least. However, the further you continue your studies in science, the more specialized you get… and the more specialized you get, the harder it becomes to explain all the neat and cool science to people (whether it be the general public, scientists in other fields of study, and sometimes even scientists in your own field). This is thus the purpose and importance of scientific communication!

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Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia

I try and do this consistently with my blog, and recently I was involved in a local program called Young Tassie Scientists. I, along with a number of other young PhD students and post-docs, got to visit various schools throughout Tasmania and share a bit about myself and my science to kids. As part of this I also got to visit Flinders Island. In this short blog I will briefly share some scientific communications experience, and a bit of the background and how to find the infamous Killiecrankie “diamond” of on the beaches of Flinders Island.

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Young Tassie Scientists, 2016!

 Science Spiel: Communication and “Diamonds” 

Communicating science is all about knowing who the audience is… in other word, “who are the people you are trying to convey your science to?”. This will help you decide what kind of background concepts you can skip over, and what sort of jargon you should use. For example, in this blog I try to be quite general and explain things so you don’t need to know much about geology to follow along.

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Examples of some of my presentation slides for the kids, as part of the Young Tassie Scientists

When I was visiting schools I had to deal with both young and old kids (i.e., kindergarten to year/grade 10s), thus my presentations had to be modified accordingly. For the older kids I went through my powerpoint presentation and into detail more about the rock cycle, geology and minerals, with an emphasis on the profession of geologist and how neat it is in terms of allowing you to explore and travel the earth and understand it as you go. For younger kids, will I still had a presentation, I mainly relied on interactive stuff like showing rock hand samples and demonstrating properties of certain minerals/rocks. Little kids love minerals and always have lots of questions!

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Myself (back-right row wearing the hat), and three other “Young Tassie Scientists” on the way to Flinders Island – Tasmania, Australia

I got to do this in various schools around mainland Tassie, but we also got a treat in visiting the one school on Flinders Island. Not only is Flinders Island home to stunning granite landscapes and some pretty bright kids, it also has “diamond”-laden beaches!

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Devonian granites (fore- and background) at Strzelecki national park in Flinders Island – Tasmania, Australia

The Killiecrankie diamond are misleadingly named, as they are not actual diamonds. They are in fact the mineral topaz (Al2SiO4(F,OH)2). Topaz is also a precious gem, but not quite as rare and valued as diamonds (not to mention formed in a completely different way). The Killiecrankie topaz is from pegmatitic, or ultra-fractionated granites on Flinders. The dominant rock of Flinders Island is granite, and is part of the same Devonian (~ 360 Ma) granite belt that composes the Bay of Fires and Freycinet. The most famous granite mountain on Flinders is Mt. Strzelecki.

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Close-up view of the megacrystic granite of Flinders Island – Tasmania, Australia

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Devonian granites (fore- and background) near Strzelecki National Park in Flinders Island – Tasmania, Australia

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Killiecrankie Bay, Flinders Island – Tasmania, Australia

With time, the granites and coarse-grained pegmatites get weathered and eroded, and thus the Killiecrankie diamonds get concentrated in gravels and sands along Flinders Island. Since the “diamonds” are actually topaz, they are heavier than most other minerals and rock fragments. So in order to collect them, all you need in a sieve or pan to concentrate the heavy minerals at the bottom (i.e., just like panning for sapphires). The Killiecrankie Bay in the north of Flinders Island is a designated fossicking area, so it is open to the public to go and try your luck!

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Examples of Killiecrankie diamonds (from visitflindersisland.com.au/).

Final Thoughts:  Scientific communication not only is important, but also can be very fun! It is rewarding to be able to inspire kids to go into the field of science and to keep them curious, and also educate the young and old of some neat stuff that isn’t always in the mainstream media. Being of part of the Young Tassie Scientists was a great opportunity to do this in my home-away-from-home state of Tasmania. Getting to visit Flinders Island was also an amazing bonus! The island is beautiful, wild and rugged, with very lovely locals; I would recommend anyone to visit it given the chance. You may even find some “diamonds” while you’re there…

-Stephanie

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Sunset over Mt. Strzelecki – Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia

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Myself on Flinders Island as part of a visit of the Young Tassie Scientists

How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist: Part 3 – Glaciers and volcanoes of the centre and south

Intro: The last part of my Iceland geology blog series ventures from the centre to the south of the island. These areas contain the youngest rocks in Iceland (i.e., Nornahraun 2014/15 lava field), glacier-covered volcanoes (i.e., Vatnajökull), geothermal altered mountains (i.e., Landmannaluagar) and the scar of one of the most violent eruptions ever (i.e., Laki)!

This post is part 3 in the continuation of my series “How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist” which is based on the field trip to Iceland that I co-organized as part of our university’s SEG student chapter. For an intro to the geology and tectonic setting of Iceland, check out my first post here and my second post here.

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Areas outlined in my 3-part blog post series “How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist”

  • Part 1: A Land of Ice and Fire

    (Intro to Iceland, Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, Snæfellsnes Peninsula)

  • Part 2: Volcanic Landscapes of the North

    (Mývatn, Dimmuborgir, Krafla, Námafjall, and Askja)

  • Part 3: Glaciers and Volcanoes of the South

    (Nornahraun 2014/15 lava field, Central Highlands, Landmannaluagar, Laki, Vík)

 

Part 3: Glaciers and Volcanoes of the South

There are some pretty hairy river crossings when traveling through the north centre of Iceland. The main road is F88 and requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle… and a bit of courage. These roads are also frequently closed due to floods and bad conditions, so make sure to check ahead of time if it’s good to go.

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River crossing on the F88 road, on the way to the central highlands area of Iceland.

 

Holuhraun (aka. Nornahraun) lava field

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The Bárðarbunga volcanic system (Jóhannesson and Sæmundsson, 1998)

The most recent eruption in Iceland was part of the 190 km long Bárðarbunga volcanic system, located in the rift zone part of the Eastern Volcanic Zone.  One third of the volcanic system lies below the Vatnajökull ice cap. On August 16th 2014, intense earthquake swarms associated with magmatic activity and deformation were detected at the Bárðarbunga system (Sigmundsson et al., 2014). Over the next 13 days dykes propagated 45 km northeast to the Holuhraun lava field where it breached the surface and formed a small 4 hour effusive eruption (Dumont et al., 2015). A couple days later, more intense gas-rich eruptions started and continued until February 27th 2015. What remains now is a tholeiite basalt lava field that is more than 84 km2. Textures of the lava vary from a’a to slabby pahoehoe (Lavallee et al., 2015).

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Steam from the contact of the Holuhraun lava field with a river – Bárðarbunga volcanic system, Iceland

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Walking over the Holuhraun lava field of the Bárðarbunga volcanic system – Iceland

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A’a texture of the Holuhraun lava field of the Bárðarbunga volcanic system – Iceland

The volcanic eruption also produced large amounts of wind-spun, thread-like tephra known as Pele’s hair. In Icelandic, Pele’s hair is known as Nornahár, which means “witches’ hair”, and thus the new official name of the lava field is Nornahraun or “witches’ lava” (Thordarson, 2015).

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Pele’s hair, known as Nornahár in Icelandic, which means “witches’ hair” – Holuhraun lava field of the Bárðarbunga volcanic system, Iceland

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People walking in the geothermal water from the contact of the Holuhraun lava field with a river – Bárðarbunga volcanic system, Iceland

 

Ice caps and glaciers

Heading south through the interior of Iceland reveals some of the most amazing glaciers and ice caps. The largest glacier, which covers a fair bit of Iceland, is Vatnajökull. Two of the other large glaciers are Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. Active volcanoes are often underneath these ice caps. Eyjafjallajökull (a tongue twister of a name to pronounce), for example, is where the infamous 2010 eruption occurred. This dispersed volcanic ash into the atmosphere which eventually reached Europe and caused a shut down in air traffic for a week! Recently there have been reports on some rumbling at the even larger neighboring Katla volcano…

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Vatnajökull ice cap in the highlands region of Iceland. it extends as far as the eye can see, and can quite possibly be mistaken for the sea if you didn’t know better!

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An outlet glacier from the Vatnajökull ice cap, in the central highlands area of Iceland

Further along south is the 8 km long Sólheimajökull temperate outlet gla­cier, which descends from ~ 1500 m at its parent glacier Mýrdalsjökull, to ~ 100 m (Russell et al., 2010).

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Sólheimajökull temperate outlet gla­cier – south Iceland

 

Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar (yet another Icelandic name that is a mouthful to pronounce), is a geothermally active area in Iceland know for its amazing colourful mountains. Whereas most of Iceland is composed of mafic rocks, the Landmannalaugar area (i.e., within the Torfajökull central volcanic complex) has the most silicic rocks in Iceland. It has been active for ~ 1 million years, and more than 250 km3 of rhyolite has been erupted in numerous, mostly sub-glacial eruptions (Sæmunds­son, 1972; McGarvie, 1985). An example of one of the rhyolitic mountains is Bláhnjúkur. Bláhnjúkur formed by a sub-glacial rhyolitic eruption, which overlaid older rhyolite.

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Hydrothermally altered rhyolitic mountains of Landmannalaugar, southern Iceland

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Driving toward Landmannalaugar, Iceland

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Bright colours on the geothermally altered Landmannalaugar mountains – southern Iceland

The Námshraun lava flow at Landmannalaugar is an interesting mixed compositions lava flow. It is a mixed rhyolite-basalt composition. It is volumetrically dominated by metaluminous rhyolite, with sub-decimetre scale inclusions of icelandite and basaltic icelandite, which may have increased the temperature of the original magma and influenced its rheology (Wilson et al., 2007).

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Námshraun lava flow entering the lake – Landmannalaugar, Iceland

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Close up of the mixed composition (i.e., rhyolite-basalt) Námshraun lava flow at Landmannalaugar – Iceland

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Neat Icelandic moss growing over the mixed composition (i.e., rhyolite-basalt) Námshraun lava flow at Landmannalaugar – Iceland

 

Laki

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Geological map of the Laki lava field (Hamilton et al., 2010)

Laki is one of the most impressive sites in Iceland, as here remains the preserved scar that really gives you a sense of how destructive these volcanic eruptions can be. The Laki fissure eruption occurred over an 8 month period in 1783 to 1784. It occurred along ten en-echelon fissure segments that opened toward the northeast to form a 27 km long cone row. There were over 140 eruption sites which include scoria cones, spatter cones, and tuff cones. The most common features are the scoria cones (40 to 120 m high) which consist of several thick (2 to 15 m) scoria fall layers, and capped by a thin (0.5 to 1.5 m ) spatter layer (Thordarson and Self, 2003).

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Overview of the Laki fissures from the 1783/84 eruption – Iceland

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…and one with me 😉 Overview of the Laki fissures from the 1783/84 eruption – Iceland

The Laki eruptions were the second largest basaltic lava flow in historic times. It produced 10 to 13 km high columns of volcanic ash and SO2 that dispersed into the westerly polar jet steam to then be dispersed over Europe. The produced sulfur emissions casted a veil over Europe and caused climate perturbations, including a drop in temperature of 1.3°C for 2 to 3 years (Thordarson and Self, 2003). The nox­ious fumes emitted by the eruption also stunted grass growth and killed more than half of the livestock in Iceland through fluorine poisoning. The consequences ultimately resulted in the dis­astrous ‘Haze Famine’ that killed 20% (10,000 folks) of the Icelandic human population (Thordarson and Hoskuldsson, 2002).

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View from inside the Laki fissures scoria cones from the 1783/84 eruption – Iceland 

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Eerie moss and fog from inside the Laki fissures scoria cones from the 1783/84 eruption – Iceland

 

South coast

Lastly along the south coast, near Vik, there are more beautiful examples of columnar basalt… as well as puffins you can spot if you get lucky!

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South Iceland coast line with flying puffins, near Vík – Iceland

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Icelandic puffins at the south coast of Iceland near Vík

Some of the major waterfall in the area are Fagrifoss “beautiful falls” and Skogáfoss. Skogáfoss is sourced from both Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers and travels down the Skóga River (Jóhannesson and Sæmundsson, 2009). The cliffs that Skogáfoss fall over (60 m tall) represent the former shoreline of Iceland before sand-rich deposits from recent jökulhlaup (i.e., catastrophic floods) extended the islands length to the south.

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Fagrifoss “beautiful falls” – Iceland

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Skógafoss falls over cliffs that represent the former shoreline of Iceland

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Morning sunrise in Þakgil valley in southern Iceland

 

Final Thoughts: Iceland’s precarious position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge has lead to a constantly changing landscape formed from violent volcanism. This post concludes my 3-part geology series of Iceland. I hope I have shed a bit of “geological” light on this dramatic, volcanic, island country that is Iceland! Even though I covered a fair bit of ground, there is still so much more to see and explore in Iceland (hence I would love to return one day). I regard Iceland as one of the neatest places I have ever travelled to, and I reckon that anyone who travels there would have a similar feeling, whether you are a geologist or not!

-Stephanie

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Table of Icelandic Geology Terms

á (s) ár (pl), fljót (large river) River
askja Caldera
aur (glacial outwash) Sandur
bergkvika Magma
berg Rock
bjarg (s), björg (pl) Cliffs/Rocks/Crags
borg (s), borgir (pl) Rocky hill
bunga Rounded hill
dalur Valley
díabas Dolerite
eldar (pl) Fires/Eruptions
eldborg (s), eldborgir (pl) Lava ring
eldgjá Lava fissure
fjall (s), fjöll (pl) Mountain
gjall Scoria
hellir Cave
hraun Lava flow
jökull Glacier
móberg Tuff/Hyaloclastite
vatn (s), vötn (pl) Lake
víti (also used for explosive volcanic craters or maars) Hell
völlur (s), vellir (pl) Field/plain

 

How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist: Part 2 – Volcanic Landscapes of the North

Intro: The north of Iceland offers a young and dramatic volcanic landscape that is truly “out of this world” (you will see what I mean later). Heading northeast toward Akureyri, you enter what is known as the North Volcanic Zone (NVZ). The NVZ is a subset of the roughly north-striking rift that is pulling apart Iceland and causing volcanism. The abundant volcanism in the area has resulted in brilliant places to visit in the central north, such as Mývatn rootless cones, Dimmuborgir lava formations, Námafjall  geothermal area, Krafla fires, Askja volcano, Herðubreið table mountain, and more!

This post is part 2 in the continuation of my series How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist which is based on the field trip to Iceland that I co-organized as part of our university’s SEG student chapter. For an intro to the geology and tectonic setting of Iceland, check out my first post here.

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Areas outlined in my 3-part blog post series “How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist”

  • Part 1: A Land of Ice and Fire

    (Intro to Iceland, Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, Snæfellsnes Peninsula)

  • Part 2: Volcanic Landscapes of the North

    (Mývatn, Dimmuborgir, Krafla, Námafjall, and Askja)

  • Part 3: Glaciers and Volcanoes of the South

    (Nornahraun 2014/15 lava field, Central Highlands, Landmannaluagar, Laki, Vík)

Part 2: Volcanic Landscapes of the North

Mývatn and Skútustaðagígar

The Mývatn area is packed full of interesting geological features, most of which formed in roughly the last 2,300 year. The lake itself (Mývatn, vatn = lake in Icelandic), contains a ponded area called Skútustaðagígar, which is a natural monument due to its spotted terrain full of pseudocraters. Pseudocraters (also known as rootless cones) are volcanic landforms that resembles a true volcanic craters, but differs in that they are not actual vents from which lava erupted. They are composed of scoria, splatter and tephra and formed ~2,300 years ago when lava flowed over the lake’s water-logged sediments. This caused numerous phreatic (steam) explosions that built the series of cone (Lanagan et al., 2001; Thordarson and Hoskuldsson, 2008).

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Mývatn rootless cones – Iceland

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Mývatn rootless cones – Iceland

Dimmuborgir

Dimmuborgir is a place nearby Mývatn. It is known as the “dark castle”. They formed ~1,800 to 2,300 year ago, when large, ugly, means trolls were exposed to sunlight after a night of dancing and turned to stone!

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Volcanic rocks or frozen trolls? – Dimmuborgir, Iceland

… according to Icelandic folklore. Actually, the bizarre rock pillars formed because of a pooling of lava, or ‘lava lake’, over top of wet, unconsolidated sediments. Gases and steam built up underneath the lava and when the steam escaped from the underlying wet sediments, it ripped through the lava and the lava froze (or solidified) in the air, forming these chimney-like structures (Gregg and Christie, 2013). The lava lake eventually drained and collapsed, leaving neat features evident of the lava’s subsidence and retreat.

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Dimmuborgir lava formations – Mývatn, Iceland

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Dimmuborgir lava formations – Mývatn, Iceland

Krafla Fires

Krafla volcanic system is a major contributor to the crustal formation of Iceland. The Krafla system is part of the active Northern Volcanic Zone (NVZ), and contains fissure swarms, crater rows and normal faults surrounding a central volcano. It has been active over the past 300,000 year with 29 reported eruptions in recorded history. The most recent was the Krafla fires (fire = eruption in Icelandic) between 1975 to 1984. What remains is a stunning lava fields that is still steaming and too hot to touch in places. Here you can observe some of the complexities of how the lava flowed and formed (e.g., mini lava tubes).

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Landscape of the Krafla Fire lava field – Iceland

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Recently solidified lava – Krafla Fire, Iceland

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Recently solidified lava – Krafla Fire, Iceland

Námafjall Geothermal Area

Námafjall is a high-temperature geothermal field (~250°C at 1,800 m depth; Arnorsson et al., 1978). The name Námafjall is derived from the Icelandic words meaning “mountain of mines”, due to the abundant sulphur that was historically mined from the area. Námafjall is related to the Krafla volcanic system. Boiling mud pools, steaming fumaroles and solfataras with sulfur crystals compose the yellow and beige stained landscape.

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Steaming fumarole with native sulfur at Námafjall geothermal area – Iceland

The gas from the fumaroles is steam as well as hydrogen sulfide which results in the characteristic “rotten egg” smell of the area.  The waters are acid-sulphate, which comes from the gases. When you have boiling at depth, the rising gas phase can comes into cold groundwater and condense. Hydrogen sulfide and that gas can react with water to form sulfuric acid which alters the rocks and sediments of the landscape.

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Mud pools of Námafjall geothermal area – Iceland

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Altered rocks and mud pool of the Námafjall geothermal area – Iceland

Lots of ‘___foss’

There are two particular waterfalls (foss = waterfall in Icelandic) in this regions that are stunning and must-sees; Goðafoss (“waterfall of the gods”) and Dettifoss (“the beast”). Beautiful columns make up the rocks they fall over. These rocks are basalt at Goðafoss, but at Dettifoss some of the rocks are icelandite (a type of andesite rock that is Fe-rich), and as you can probably guess, discovered in Iceland.

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Goðafoss – Iceland

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Goðafoss – Iceland

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Dentifoss – Iceland

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Dentifoss – Iceland

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Icelandite (Fe-rich andesite) – Denitfoss, Iceland

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Icelandite columns near Dentifoss – Iceland

Herðubreið

Driving south from Mývatn you enter the Ódáðahraun lava desert and Herðubreiðarlindir (oasis of Herðubreið). The landscape is dominated by basaltic lava. Standing prominently in the oasis is the mountain called Herðubreið. This is a 1682 m high mountain and voted as the “Iceland national mountain”. It is known as a table mountain (tuya), which is obvious by its defining flat top. Table mountains form when a volcano erupts (effusively) beneath ice. Approximately 800 m of ice covered Herðubreið when subglacial hyaloclastite and pillowed basalt flows erupted beneath the ice, this was then capped by 300 m of subaerial lava (Thord­arson and Höskuldsson, 2002).

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Herðubreið oasis – Iceland

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Herðubreið (table mountain “tuya”) – Iceland

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Herðubreið (table mountain “tuya”) – Iceland

Askja

Toward the south towards the Dreki huts is the ominous Askja. The landscape surrounding it seems like it is out of this world, and infact NASA astronauts used the area to practice moon landing training. Askja is another central caldera and fissure system (like Krafla) that is located on the active NVZ. It has been active for at least 200,000 years (Sigvaldason, 2002), which increased activities between 10,000 to 4,500 years ago due to crustal rebound from deglaciation.

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Askja huts – Iceland

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The sulfuric (~ 28°C) Viti (Vitilaug) crater lake at Askja – Iceland

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Öskjuvatn at Askja – Iceland

The most famous eruption was a violent rhyolitic “plinian-style’ (i.e., tass gas, ash and pumice-rich columns over 50 km high) eruption in 1875 A.D. This formed the Öskjuvatn caldera now filled with Öskjuvatn (vatn = lake). Visible on the rims are rare welded fall deposits, as well as marked changes from wet to dry eruption styles (Carey et al., 2008).

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Welded fall deposits on the rims of Öskjuvatn caldera at Askja – Iceland

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Oxidized rhyolite lava from Askja – Iceland

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Öskjuvatn at Askja – Iceland

Final Thoughts: While it might be tricky to get to (and require a bit of 4-wheel driving), the north centre of Iceland offers spectacular landscapes and sights, that I personally think are must-sees for any adventurer in Iceland. This is truly a land shaped by young volcanism, and what remains is a diverse array of geological features to explore.

Next up in my “how to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist” series is Part 3 – Glaciers and Volcanic of the South. This last post will be about the central highlands and south, where the youngest rocks and massive glaciers reside!

-Stephanie

Thanks for reading, if you like my blog then please subscribe by entering your email in the top-right sidebar

Table of Icelandic Geology Terms

á (s) ár (pl), fljót (large river) River
askja Caldera
aur (glacial outwash) Sandur
bergkvika Magma
berg Rock
bjarg (s), björg (pl) Cliffs/Rocks/Crags
borg (s), borgir (pl) Rocky hill
bunga Rounded hill
dalur Valley
díabas Dolerite
eldar (pl) Fires/Eruptions
eldborg (s), eldborgir (pl) Lava ring
eldgjá Lava fissure
fjall (s), fjöll (pl) Mountain
gjall Scoria
hellir Cave
hraun Lava flow
jökull Glacier
móberg Tuff/Hyaloclastite
vatn (s), vötn (pl) Lake
víti (also used for explosive volcanic craters or maars) Hell
völlur (s), vellir (pl) Field/plain

 

How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist: Part 1 – A Land of Ice and Fire

Intro: Iceland is a land of ice and fire. Not only is it one of the most breathtaking places in the world to visit, but it is also one of the most unique geological sites to study. I recently co-organized and participated in a field trip to Iceland and Sweden as part of our university’s Society of Economic Geologist Student Chapter (check out the video here!). In this multi-part series I will give a quick summary and self-guide on how to get the most out of a visit to Iceland by seeing the amazing country though the eyes of geologist in order to help you understand and appreciate just how (geologically) unique Iceland is! On our route we traveled clockwise around the island, and cut through the middle. Thus, the multi-part series is broken as follows.

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Areas outlined in my 3-part blog post series “How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist”

  • Part 1: A Land of Ice and Fire*

    (Intro to Iceland, Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, Snæfellsnes Peninsula)

  • Part 2: Volcanic Landscapes of the North

    (Mývatn, Dimmuborgir, Krafla, Námafjall, and Askja)

  • Part 3: Glaciers and Volcanoes of the South

    (Nornahraun 2014/15 lava field, Central Highlands, Landmannaluagar, Laki, Vík)

*Disclaimer; Yes I am a Game of Thrones fan, so the there may be  some references to this within the post series, as they filmed a large portion of the show in Iceland.

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Ice stalagmites of the Raufarhólshellir lava tube, Iceland

Part 1: A Land of Ice and Fire

Brief geological setting of Iceland

The reason that Iceland is so unique is because it is centered on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is an active spreading rift of two large continental plates; the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. As the tectonic plates move apart, magma rises up resulting in basaltic volcanism. The oldest rocks are 16 million year old (Ma), but most of rocks are less than 3 Ma (Moorbath et al., 1968).

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Iceland is located on the active spreading rift called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that separates the North American and Eurasian Plate (right image = volcanolovers.net)

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General geology map of Iceland showing the main geologic subdivisions and volcanic zones (fault structures). RR – Reykjanes Ridge; RVB – Reykjanes Volcanic Belt; WVZ – West Volcanic Zone; MIB – Mid Iceland Belt; EVZ – East Volcanic Zone; NVZ – North Volcanic Zone; TFZ – Tjörnes Fracture Zone; KR – Kolbeinsey Ridge; ÖVB – Öræfi Volcanic Belt; SVB – Snæfellsnes Volcanic Belt. See Day 10 for sandur deposit information (modified after Thordarson and Larsen, 2007)

From Reykjavík to the Golden Circle

The capital city of Iceland is Reykjavík, and from there the most accessible and popular destination is a tour of the Golden Circle. On the Golden Circle route is the impressive Gulfoss (foss = waterfall) and the geothermal field containing Geysir and Strokkur. This is actually where the word geyser comes from!

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Gulfoss, along the Golden Circle – Iceland

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Gulfoss, along the Golden Circle – Iceland

The water in the geothermal fields is alkaline, and the hot spring eruptions are driven by heat from a magma body ~ 2 to 3 km beneath the surface (Waltham, 2000). The hydrostatic pressure (i.e., pressure from the overlying water column) causes the water to boil at temperature over 100°C at depth, where it is converted to steam. The decreasing pressure with proximity to the surface results in flash production of steam from the superheated water which drives the explosive eruption every ~ 10 minutes!

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Strokkur geyser eruption, on the Golden Circle – Iceland

Þingvellir

Next along the Golden Circle is Þingvellir National Park. This is arguably the most famous geological place in Iceland, as it is the northeast-elongated graben that represents the Mid-Atlantic ridge. It is the only above-water expression of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, i.e., the rift that is pulling apart Iceland to this day! This area has been extensively studied and provides exceptionally clear evidence for continental drift and plate tectonics. It is also makes as neat photo as here you can “stand on” part of North America and Europe.

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Þingvellir rift valley, on the Golden Circle – Iceland

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Standing on the “rift” of the plates at Þingvellir rift valley, on the Golden Circle – Iceland

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the western section of what is known as the Snæfellsnes Volcanic Zone. This is an intriguing area of island, as it is west-striking zone of intraplate alkalic volcanism that is off-rift to the main north-striking central volcanic axial rift system (Sigurðsson, 1970). On our trip we were joined by the Icelandic volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson (head of the Volcano Museum in Stykkishólmur which is definitely worth a visit). There are many interesting geological features to see, so I will just highlight several prominent ones we visited as we drove from Stykkishólmur counterclockwise toward the western end of the Peninsula.

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Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

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Geological profile of Mt. Kirkjufells

Heading west from Stykkishólmur, a famous (and well photographed) mountain is Kirkjufell mountain. Differing from the volcanoes, this mountain is actually intermixed with glacial and interglacial-stage sedimentary rocks full of fossils, as well as layers of lava (Thordarson and Höskuldsson, 2002; Denk et al., 2011).

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Kirkjufell mountain on Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

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Kirkjufell mountain on Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

At the western edge of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula resides Snæfellsjökull. Snæfellsjökull is a stratovolcano located on the western tip of the peninsula; an infamous volcano featured in Jules Vernes’ Journey to the Centre of the Earth. This stratovol­cano is 1446 km high and capped by the Snæfellsjökull gla­cier. It has produced both felsic and mafic volcanics. Products of the volcano shape the landscape on the western end of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The volcano has had several large eruptions that dispersed rhyolitic tephra over parts of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and well as smaller basaltic flows from fissures related to parasitic vents at the foot of the volcano (Kokfelt et al., 2009).

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Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

Lastly, a visit near the Djúpalónssandur is necessary to see some “magical” and bizarre rock formations.

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Bizzare rock formations at Djúpalónssandur on Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

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Benmorite lava of Djúpalónssandur on Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

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Classification for alkaline and sub-alkaline igneous rocks (image source: Imperial College Rock Library)

The lavas here are a great example of the unique alkali lavas that compose the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Alkaline rocks have an excess amount of alkali content (i.e., Na2O and K2O) over silica (SiO2). They are rarer than their sub-alkaline counterparts, which  are the dominate lavas that make up the rest of Iceland, and most other igneous rocks in the world. The rock types seem at Djúpalónssandur and Hellnar are mugearite and benmoreite. Due to their higher silica content, beautiful flow banding can be seen in the grey lava. The dark (black) rocks represented parts of the lava that cooled very fast and are glassy, and the red lava represents oxidized lava that interacted with water.

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Spectacular flow banding of mugearite and benmoreite rock at Hellnar, Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

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Mugearite and benmoreite rock at Hellnar, Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

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Spectacular flow banding of mugearite and benmoreite rock at Hellnar, Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

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Spectacular seacliff exposure of mugearite and benmoreite rock at Hellnar, Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Iceland

Final thoughts: From the moment you land in Iceland you can sense something is very special about this place. It is nice to be able to understand a bit more about the dramatic geological processes that shaped such a spectacular land. Because most people fly into Reykjavík, a tour along the Golden Circle is one of the easily accessible things to do, and definitely a good place to start your adventures in Iceland. The Snæfellsnes Peninsular is not too far away either (~2 hour drive north) and offers a beautiful landscape in the shadow of the mysterious Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano, and a landscape shaped by some odd geological processes compared to the rest of Iceland.

Next up in my “How to explore Iceland through the eyes of a geologist” series is Part 2 – Volcanic Landscapes of the North. Here resides ominous volcanic landscapes and features that look truly out of this world!

-Stephanie

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Table of Icelandic Geology Terms

á (s) ár (pl), fljót (large river) River
askja Caldera
aur (glacial outwash) Sandur
bergkvika Magma
berg Rock
bjarg (s), björg (pl) Cliffs/Rocks/Crags
borg (s), borgir (pl) Rocky hill
bunga Rounded hill
dalur Valley
díabas Dolerite
eldar (pl) Fires/Eruptions
eldborg (s), eldborgir (pl) Lava ring
eldgjá Lava fissure
fjall (s), fjöll (pl) Mountain
gjall Scoria
hellir Cave
hraun Lava flow
jökull Glacier
móberg Tuff/Hyaloclastite
vatn (s), vötn (pl) Lake
víti (also used for explosive volcanic craters or maars) Hell
völlur (s), vellir (pl) Field/plain

 

A fossilized (petrified) forest in the ground

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Location of Lune River, Tasmania, Australia

Intro: There is a place in Tasmania where stunning fossil remains of an ancient forest can be found by just about anyone. This is Lune River, located near the south tip of the island (~ 2 hours drive south of Hobart). Fossilized tree branches, ferns and beautiful agates are buried within the soft gravel ground, and there are dedicated blocks of the forest where public people can go and find some of these neat specimens. In this blog post I’ll briefly describe how the fossilized forest formed, my venture down there, and how to get (i.e., fossick) for them yourself!

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The forest above the fossilized forest at Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

Science Spiel: A petrified forest (Geology, Mineralogy)

Hidden in the clay-rich, gravely ground of Lune River there is a petrified forest. Petrified is a term used when an organic material is replaced by mineral. In the Jurassic time period, specially 182 Ma (Bromfield, 2004; Bromfield et al., 2007) the area near Lune River was a lush forest covered with tree-ferns and conifer woods. With time this organic plant material was buried by sediment and thus protected from decay by oxygen and biological activity. The sediment was further buried by basaltic to andesitic lava. While buried, groundwater that was volcanic-heated and full of dissolved silica flowed through the sediment and replaced the original organic plant material (i.e. ferns leaves, tree branches, etc.). In some cases this replacement was cell by cell, thus beautifully preserving the more fine structure and detail of the plants.

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Fossilized (petrified) wood from Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

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Petrified wood from Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

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Designated public fossicking sites at Lune River – Tasmania, Australia (from Mineral Resources Tasmania, 2016)

If you know where to look you can you find these rare tree-ferns, as well as agates, leaf impressions in mudstone, and silicified conifer wood! First step is to check the Mineral Resources of Tasmania website http://www.mrt.tas.gov.au/portal/lune-river on fossicking in Lune River. Here there are designated areas the public can go to. I would also suggest stopping by Lunaris Gemstone shop in Lune River. There is a lovely lady named Christine who runs the place, and you can get information exactly where to go, plus check out all the awesome specimens in the shop.

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Display of fossilized fern-trees, wood and others at Lunaris Gemstone, Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

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Shovel used to dig holes and find the buried fossilized wood and tree-ferns at Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

What you need for fossicking is a shovel and spade. The ground is relatively soft and composed of clay and gravel, but can be fairly consolidated so a trick is to look under the roots of fallen over trees, or dig a hole. It is also important, and should be noted, that you must fill up your holes once you are done (although, as in our case, it was beneficial that the previous fossickers didn’t as we found the pre-dug holes easier to work with). The specimens in the ground are quite dirty and hard to tell, but once you get your eye into the more rectangular- and uniform-like shapes of the fossilized wood you can pick out a fair bit.

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Looking for fossilized wood and agate in the gravelly ground at Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

Final Thoughts: While we didn’t manage to find any of the elusive tree-fern, we found a fair bit of agate and fossilized wood; so that leave us with another reason to return I suppose! As a geologist you always have to remember things as they are today were not as they once were. This petrified forest is a nice example of a ecosystem that was quite different to the current eucalyptus forest that occupies the Lune River area of Tasmania today. Thus, it is pretty neat to be able to go out and collect a little piece of the preserved ancient forest for yourself.

-Stephanie

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^^^Check out my video to go with this blog post (above). And please subscribe to my YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/exploringtheearth) for more!

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The forest above the fossilized forest at Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

Tasmania, Australia, Travel, Geology, Fossil, Forest, Fossilized wood, petrified wood, petrified, silica, quartz, agate, fossicking, mineral collecting, find, how to, adventure, blog, rocks, minerals, Lune River, photography, explore, outdoors, nature, science, geoscience, gemstone

Petrified wood from Lune River – Tasmania, Australia

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