How do Icelandic glaciers respond to their environment?
Studies of glaciers in Iceland can contribute significantly to the field of glaciology, and provide us with valuable time series and data. The present glaciers are important analogues to warm-based Pleistocene ice sheets. Glaciological research in Iceland, include observations and modeling of glacier mass balance, geometry and dynamics, erosion and sedimentation, geomorphological processes, water flow beneath glaciers, jökulhlaups, stability of ice masses, surges and glacier-volcano interactions. Detailed maps of surface and bedrock topography (derived by radio-echo soundings, GPS-measurements and remote sensing from satellites) are available for Icelandic glaciers, along with information about various subglacial geological structures, and subglacial lakes. All this can be used to increase the overall understanding of Icelandic glaciers as well as to develop and constrain numerical models to simulate the growth and decay of the present and former glaciers.
Studies of glacier-volcano interaction comprises topics such as a) creation of subglacial geothermal systems by extraction of heat from subsurface magma bodies by water, b) subglacial lakes as natural calorimeters for measuring the heat flux of a subglacial geothermal area, c) thermal conditions and heat transfer in subglacial lakes, d) drainage of meltwater, accumulation in subglacial lakes, jökulhlaups, e) subglacial lakes as expressions of glacio-volcanic interactions, f) heat transfer and production of glacial meltwater during volcanic eruptions, implications for styles of eruptions and types of volcanic products, the formation of hyaloclastite ridges, mounds and tuyas, g) dynamic response of glaciers to subglacial eruptions, h) impact of variable ice overburden on hydrothermal and volcanic systems, climatic effects on subglacial volcanoes, i) exploration of volcanic history recorded by tephra layers in glaciers, j) improved understanding of ice-volcano processes on other planets.
Understanding North Atlantic climate
Iceland, being situated at the boundary of air and water masses of tropical and Arctic origin, has been more strongly impacted by subtle changes in the ocean/atmospheric circulation than other North Atlantic land masses. The physical environment in Iceland is therefore an important laboratory for understanding atmospheric and oceanographic processes and for identifying past climate variability, whose nature and forcing is vital for assessment of future climate evolution. The climatic conditions and topography in Iceland are conductive to high levels of glaciation. The glaciers are dynamically active and respond quickly to climatic fluctuations, and have significantly shaped the landscape and the adjacent sea-floor by means of erosion and deposition. The Quaternary and Tertiary history of glaciation, vegetation and fauna is archived in volcanic and sedimentary rock sequences and high-resolution marine and terrestrial sediments. Explosive volcanism in Iceland has produced widespread tephra markers in the North Atlantic region which offer reliable dating and correlation of the environment.