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Underlying Volcano Melted Iceland’s ‘Funeral Glacier’, Not Climate Change

In an astonishing turn of events, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) just cosponsored aclimate change funeral” for an Icelandic glacier positioned atop a volcano that is part of and fueled by one of the most volcanically active faults on our planet, the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift System (Figure 1).

Here we show how geologically induced heat from the underlying Okjokull Volcano (Figure 1) acted to melt the overlying Okjokull ‘funeral’ glacier, which had little to do with climate change.

Figure 1.) Volcanic and Fault Systems Map of Iceland. Note that the Okjokull “climate change funeral” glacier is located atop the active West Volcanic Zone segment of Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift System. (map credit see here), some labeling by J. E. Kamis).

Evidence supporting this follows.

REGIONAL GEOLOGICAL SETTING

Iceland is one of the most geologically active islands on Earth because it lies along, was created by, and is still strongly affected by molten lava expelled from one of the 26 major breaks in Earth’s outer crust collectively termed Tectonic Plate Boundaries.

The specific plate boundary which formed Iceland and continues to anomalously heat huge portions of this island is the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift System.

A rift system that cuts through the center of Iceland and is acting to pull this island apart at the unbelievable rate of 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) per year.

This pull-apart/divergent plate boundary process generates deep inner Earth reaching open fractures and faults that are constantly being backfilled with upwelling molten hot lava.

This process also acts to fuel and maintain Iceland’s massive emissions of heat and chemically charged heated fluids.

The specific surface geological features that transmit this heat to island bedrock, adjacent oceans and overlying atmosphere include the Greenland/Iceland Mantle Plume (see herehere, and here), volcanoes, lava emitting faults, hot springs, geysers, ocean floor hydrothermal vents and ocean floor volcanoes.

Heat transfer and emissions of super-heated fluid from the ocean floor extensions of Iceland’s segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift contributed significantly to May 2010’s so-called “Gulf Stream Shutdown.”

This event is a powerful regional example of the massive, geologically generated heat that is constantly pulsing from Iceland and its segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift System.

A non-technical characterization of Iceland’s regional geological setting and its associated heat flow is that “one-third of all material that comes from volcanic activities on Earth are generated in Icelandic eruptions. Although Iceland is a small country and the volcanic activity zone is even smaller, 33% of all of Earth’s lava flows through Icelandic volcanic systems.” (see here and here).

LOCAL GEOLOGICAL SETTING

Focusing more locally to the island of Iceland geological research studies and large amounts of heat flow data prove that this island is one of the most active “Geothermal Hotspots” on Earth.

Figure 2.) Map of Iceland active geothermal areas, faults, and lava formations (map credit geologic time pics, some labeling by J. E. Kamis)

It is home to 39 individual currently active geothermal areas (Figure 2) each containing various numbers of hot springs, geysers, or hot water flowing faults. These geothermal areas are all located within the currently active portion of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift System.

The Figure 2 map shows that the Okjokull Volcano and overlying Okjokull “Funeral” Glacier are located immediately adjacent to, or directly above, depending on the latitude/longitude projections employed, a geothermal area.

The Okjokull Volcano is part of Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone or sometimes referred to as the Western Rift Zone. It is one of two large splays of the diverging / pull-a-part Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift System.

This western splay is home to numerous volcanoes, countless secondary faults and very young lava flows all indicative of an active geological setting.

OKJOKULL VOLCANO GEOLOGICAL SETTING

Focusing on the geological setting of the Okjokull Volcano and overlying Okjokull Glacier we refer to Figure 3.

Figure 3.) The Okjokull funeral glacier absent glacial ice, which is only 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) NW of the ice-covered Prestahnúkur Volcano.

This recent satellite image of Okjokull’s funeral glacier absent glacial ice and the adjacent ice-covered Prestahnúkur Volcano (3.7 miles apart) makes a very strong point.

Specifically, that it’s near impossible that atmospheric global warming would totally melt glacial ice atop one volcano while the glacial ice mass atop an adjacent volcano remains unaffected. Keep in mind the elevations of these two volcanoes’ top glaciers is roughly the same.

A more plausible explanation is that the Okjokull Volcano has recently become much hotter/increased its bedrock geothermal heat flow in recent years. This heat flow increase has acted to rapidly melt the Okjokull Glacier.

Evidence supporting this contention is as follows:

  • Active Geothermal hot springs and geysers are present close to a volcano, which indicates the local area is volcanically active. The Okjokull Volcano is bounded on the southwest and northwest by active hot geothermal areas (see here and Figure 2). Additionally, the summit area of the Prestahnúkur Volcano is geothermally active strongly indicating that the summit crater of the Okjokull Volcano is also geothermally. Likely even more geothermally active because they lie along the same heat sourcing Rift Fault Zone as per Figure 2.
  • Sudden occurrence of earthquake swarms in the local area of the volcano. These swarms often indicate that the sourcing hot molten lava chambers beneath the volcano or local area are moving/becoming more active. This is true of the Okjokull Volcano area (see here and here)
  • The sudden melting of the glacial ice atop the volcano indicates that the volcano is heating up. Obviously true of the Okjokull Volcano area.
  • The volcano is located along with a known, very active major break in Earth’s crust that has recently experienced very large volcanic eruptions from nearby volcanoes. Obviously true of the Okjokull Volcano area.

The classification of volcanoes as extinct, dormant, active, and erupting is not as absolute as you might think.

For instance, an “extinct” volcano in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula (western border of the Bering Sea) recently erupted, catching volcanologists by surprise. Also, very few of Earth’s estimated 1,500 land volcanoes or 500,000 ocean-floor volcanoes are monitored for changes in earthquake activity or increased heat flow.

Lastly and possibly most telling, Icelandic volcanoes that have erupted during the last five to 10 years where all major eruptions some covering Europe with ash.

Major eruptions like this that lay along a major plate boundary are strong evidence that the plate boundary fault is extremely active.

Okjokull lies within this active Iceland plate boundary zone.

SUMMARY

Although the detailed geology contained in this article may seem a bit daunting to understand, it can be summarized as follows: Iceland is one of the most dynamically active volcanic and bedrock heat flow areas on Earth, including the rock layers beneath and surrounding of the “climate change funeral glacier.”

Furthermore, by providing detailed regional, local, and specific geological feature evidence, the reader has gained confidence that the assertions within this article are backed by solid, scientific data and research.

NASA’s failure to at least mention geologically induced heat flow as a plausible alternative cause of glacial ice melting atop the Okjokull Volcano is extremely difficult to reconcile especially considering the excellence of their reputation, numerous, high-quality research studies, and a cadre of dedicated scientists.

Don’t get this one.

James Edward Kamis is a retired professional Geologist with 42 years of experience, a B.S. in Geology from Northern Illinois University (1973), an M.S. in geology from Idaho State University (1977), and a longtime member of AAPG who has always been fascinated by the connection between Geology and Climate. More than 42 years of research/observation have convinced him that Geological forces, especially Earth’s Upper Mantle Convection Systems which drive the dynamics of outer crustal plates, are an important driver of the Earth’s climate as per his Plate Climatology Theory.