Háskóli Íslands

About the Institute

The Institute of Earth Sciences, an independent part of the University’s Science Institute, is the main site of academic research in earth sciences in Iceland. The Institute provides research facilities for the about 30 teaching and research faculty members, 5-6 Nordic research fellows, several postdoctoral fellows and about 50 graduate students. Research within the Institute is organised into three broadly defined themes:

The Institute was established on July 1st, 2004 when the Nordic Volcanological Institute and the geology and geophysics sections of the Science Institute, University of Iceland merged. The Institute runs the Nordic Volcanological Center, funded jointly by the Icelandic state and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The research is process orientated, using the Iceland region as a natural laboratory for several fields of geoscience, with its unique access to the largest sub-aerial part of the mid-ocean ridge system.
The institute has an international research environment, and widespread cooperation with foreign institutes and universities.
The Institute of Earth Sciences is an independent part of the University’s Science Institute, and is the main site of academic research in earth sciences in Iceland. A major task of the institute is participating in education of new generations of geoscientists, including a worldwide selection of students graduating with BSc, MSc, and PhD degrees every year.
IES provides civil protection authorities with knowledge and advice regarding natural hazards.


Being the largest subaerial part of the mid-ocean rift system and an arctic gateway Iceland provides a unique setting for research spanning many fields of the geosciences. Integrated crust-mantle processes, plume upwelling and rifting within the North-Atlantic make Iceland a target for various research, related to the formation and evolution of oceanic rift systems, plume-ridge interactions and magmatic geochemistry. Climatic conditions, topographical features and its glaciers make Iceland an attractive study-site for glacial processes and products, past and present.

Extensive volcanism within the Iceland region is reflected in structurally and geochemically more complicated volcanic systems than along the oceanic ridge system. Moreover, volcanic eruptions occur under highly variable environmental conditions, including subaerial, submarine, subaqueous and subglacial settings. Monitoring of crustal deformation and seismic activity within recently active volcanic systems along the rift axes and near the center of the Iceland hot spot has greatly advanced our understanding of how volcanoes work. Modern day monitoring and surveying techniques draw on experience gained during seismic and volcanic crises in the last three decades. At the same time the Icelandic nation is vulnerable to these natural hazards. The potential to disrupt aviation in Europe has been demonstrated during recent explosive eruptions in Iceland, leading to intense research into better understanding and prediction of such events. High-temperature geothermal energy, one of the prime resources of Iceland, is maintained by migration of magma forming shallow intrusions or crustal magma chambers within central volcano complexes. Magma in the crust, its eruption to the surface, mechanisms of eruption, effects on the environment and society is studied under the research theme of Understanding volcanoes while the formation of the crust and its structure belong to the theme of Crustal processes.

The greenhouse effect is caused by the use of fossil fuel and calls for increased understanding of global climate change. This is the broad aim of the research theme Environment and climate. Iceland's location in the North Atlantic is ideal for various studies aimed at reconstructing the dynamics of past environmental and climatic variability. Such studies are essential to understand interactions between components of the global system. Iceland's glaciers are indicators of the response of the cryosphere to higher atmospheric temperatures, and ideal for the combined approach of field studies and numerical modeling of the response of glaciers to climate change. The glaciers are also important analogues to warm-based Pleistocene ice sheets. Sedimentary and volcanic rock sequences on land contain a detailed record of palaeoenvironments during the last 15 million years, including glaciation and vegetation history. Integration of records from Icelandic glaciers, lake and marine sediments and paleontology can be used to reconstruct past environmental changes and to identify and understand processes that may affect climate on Earth in the coming decades. High resolution paleoclimate records from lake and marine sediments provide information regarding natural climatic variability during the Quaternary. Whereas major eruptions in the past have had a temporary influence on global climate, their tephra layers, preserved in sediments and glaciers, provide age control on sedimentation rates.

All of the above factors make Iceland a unique natural laboratory for the study of important geological processes shaping our planet.

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