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 environments. 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 crisis in the last three decades. At the same time the Icelandic nation is vulnerable to these natural hazards. 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 the central volcanoes.
Use of fossil fuel resulting in the greenhouse effect calls for an increased understanding of global climate change. Iceland's location in the North Atlantic is ideal for various studies aimed at reconstructing the dynamics of past environmental and climatic variability in order to understand interactions between components of the global system. Iceland's glaciers are indicators of the response of the cryosphere to climate warming, ideal for the coupling of field studies and numerical modelling 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 Tertiary and Quaternary palaeoenvironments 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.