Research Trainee Maggie Thompson Visits Iceland's Volcano and Earthquake Centre

Lave flow

On Monday, July 24, 2017, research trainee Maggie Thompson visited Lava, the Iceland Volcano and Earthquake Centre, located in Hvolsvöllur, a small town about an hour outside of Iceland’s main city of Reykjavík.  Near three of Iceland’s most prominent volcanoes, Katla, Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull, the Lava Centre, which opened its doors on June 1, is Europe’s largest volcano center.  Through its interactive exhibits covering the history of volcanic eruptions in Iceland since 1900, visitors learn about the creation and growth of Iceland through various geological processes, the causes and effects of earthquakes, and an introduction to volcanology.

The mantle plume display (photo courtesy Maggie Thompson).

One of the most impressive exhibits contains a 12-meter-high visual representation of the magma source underneath Iceland, often referred to as “the fiery heart of Iceland.”  Former DTM postdocs Cecily Wolfe, Ingi Bjarnason, John VanDecar and former DTM Director Sean Solomon used seismic imaging to determine the structure of the upper mantle beneath Iceland for their 1997 Wolfe et al. Nature paper, which subsequently served as the basis for the mantle plume display at the Lava Centre.  The model display represents a combination of the up-flow of magma in the mantle plume, also known as a hot spot, and rift zone magma.  Visitors are able to walk around the structure and read various plaques explaining how Iceland is one of the few places in the world that has a mantle plume beneath its crust, originating within the Earth’s mantle and extending upwards.

(left) Nature magazine cover image from Wolfe et al., 1997. (right) Lava Centre's lobby (photo courtesy Maggie Thompson)

Other exhibits at the Lava Centre include a globe-like structure demonstrating the interaction between a mantle plume and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge magma upwelling along with long-term rifting processes, a hall simulating what it would look and sound like to be inside a tunnel of flowing magma, an ash corridor creating the visual effects of being in a cloud of volcanic ash and a panoramic view of five big volcanic systems visible from Hvolsvöllur.  The center also presents a brief film showing the most recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland, including the well-known 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull whose ash cloud temporarily halted European air traffic.

(left) An interactive screen explaining the "fiery heart of Iceland."  (right) A globe-like interactive display showing the interaction between a mantle plume and Mid-Atlantic Ridge magma upwelling along with long-term rifting processes in Iceland. (photos courtesy Maggie Thompson)

A hall chronicling all of Iceland's volcanic eruptions since 1900 (photo courtesy Maggie Thompson)

I ended my visit at the Lava Centre with a stop in their cafe to take in all of the exhibits I had just seen and to enjoy some traditional Icelandic Skyr yogurt. I would highly recommend a visit to this exhibition for anyone traveling to Iceland!

Written by Maggie Thompson

(August 2017) 

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