The Golden Circle Tour

July 14th, 2010

Guest Blogger: Becky Alcorn

Today we took the Golden Circle tour in Iceland. I think I saw more amazing geologic sites on this one tour than I’ve ever seen before. Our tour began at Thingvellir in the rift valley where we hiked along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and spent a good deal of time trying to calculate the spreading rate. We then drove to Geysir where I saw my first geyser! (and enjoyed the wonderful smell of sulfur). I also got to enjoy my first taste of hamburger sauce at the visitor center there. Our tour ended with a stop at Gullfoss, an incredible waterfall with only a small rope in some places to prevent you from falling in (take your kids at your own risk, I guess).

A panoramic view of Thingvellir

Standing on the edge at Thingvellir

The original Geysir

Strokkur geyser at Geysir

The Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall)

As you can see you can get as close to the water at Gullfoss as you'd like

Kveðja frá Íslandi! (Greetings from Iceland!)

July 13th, 2010

Guest Blogger: Becky Alcorn

Meagen og ég kynntist í Boston í gær og hafði tiltölulega viðburðasnauður flug til Íslands. Við komum á hostelið okkar í kringum miðnætti og komst hversu frábær hún var sannarlega. Ekki aðeins var flugvellinum skutla strætó þeirra brotinn niður, en svo var internetið, lykill á herbergi, og hitari í herbergið okkar. Til allrar hamingju þeir gáfu okkur í næsta herbergi sem var ekki heitt. Því miður en ekki var fortjaldið í herbergið okkar og það er aldrei raunverulega gets myrkur. Óþarfur að segja, að leita okkur að öðrum húsnæði í dag. Eftir að við að finna nýjan stað til að vera, tók við ferð upp til Reykjavíkur til að kanna borgina, sem var falleg … og fengum dýrindis Taílenska matur!

(As you can see, in the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve become fluent in Icelandic. See below for the English version.)

Meagen and I met in Boston yesterday afternoon and had a relatively uneventful flight to Iceland. We arrived at our hostel around midnight and discovered how fantastic it truly was. Not only was their airport shuttle bus broken down, but so was the internet, key to our room, and the heater in our room. Luckily they gave us the next room that wasn’t sweltering hot. Unfortunately though there was no curtain in our room and it never really gets dark. Needless to say, we searched for other accommodations today. After we found a new place to stay, we took a trip up to Reykjavik to explore the city, which was beautiful…and we got delicious Thai food!

Our tiny room in the hostel.

The harbor in Reykjavik.

Enjoying the sun in Reykjavik.

Reykjavik - the best city for its basalt columnar joints in the street and no dogs.

Houses by Tjornin Lake in Reykjavik.

A letter from Leo

February 22nd, 2010

I received a letter today from Leo, a middle school student in Berkeley, California. He and his classmates are studying plate tectonics, and Leo is doing a research project on Iceland. He writes:

You said on the College of Wooster website that the Icelandic flexure zones are dipping to a magmatic chamber.  Is that chamber what fuels Iceland’s volcanoes?  Do these flexure zones make fissures?  And it seems that these huge folds have to disturb the rocks, so why are there so few earthquakes in Iceland?  You also say that we can use this to learn how oceanic crust is formed?  Don’t we already know how?  Isn’t the sea-floor spreading how the crust is formed?  Or are you trying to figure out how the ORIGINAL crust formed?  Because figuring out the ORIGINAL crust sounds like it would be really fun.  Last question: Can you monitor the flexure zone’s movement?  And if you can, can you use that data to predict volcanic eruptions, if the flexure zones and volcanoes are somehow related?

I’ll do my best to answer all of your questions, Leo, but first, let’s chat for a bit about the geology of Iceland. Iceland is unique because it is a hotspot (an area of very high volcanic activity) that straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (a divergent plate boundary).

The Reykjanes and Kolbeinsey Ridges extend onshore in the southern and northern parts of Iceland, respectively. Through Iceland, the divergent plate boundary is shifted to the east, where it sits on top of the Iceland Plume.

The Reykjanes and Kolbeinsey Ridges extend onshore in the southern and northern parts of Iceland, respectively. Through Iceland, the divergent plate boundary is shifted to the east, where it sits on top of the Iceland Plume.

The rift wasn’t always in this location, though. The picture below shows the rift today (1n and 1v), the future rift (4), and the rifts that used to be located in the western part of the island (2 and 3).

The Western Rift Zone (1v) and Northern Rift Zone (1n) are active today. The Eastern Volcanic Zone (4) is starting to become more active. The Westfjords Rift Zone (3) was active until about 15 million years ago, when the rift migrated to the Snaefellsnes-Skagi Rift Zone (2). The Snaefellsnes-Skagi Rift Zone was active until about 7 million years ago, when the rift reorganized into the present-day configuration.

The Western Rift Zone (1v) and Northern Rift Zone (1n) are active today. The Eastern Volcanic Zone (4) is starting to become more active. The Westfjords Rift Zone (3) was active until about 15 million years ago, when the rift migrated to the Snaefellsnes-Skagi Rift Zone (2). The Snaefellsnes-Skagi Rift Zone was active until about 7 million years ago, when the rift reorganized into the present-day configuration.

Flexure zones, which develop as a result of seafloor spreading, are one of the reasons that scientists know the position of the ancient rifts. As you already know, Leo, the plates diverge at mid-ocean ridges, and the underlying mantle ascends, melts, and transforms into magma. The magma either cools slowly  (creating a rock called gabbro, which makes up the thickest and deepest part of the ocean crust) or rises up to the surface (through conduits called dikes) and erupts on the seafloor as mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB).

As the mantle rises beneath a mid-ocean ridge, it melts, creating magma. The magma that cools slowly in the crust forms a thick layer of gabbro. The magma that rises up through dikes and erupts on the seafloor creates the uppermost extrusive portion of the crust.

As the mantle rises beneath a mid-ocean ridge, it melts, creating magma. The magma that cools slowly in the crust forms a thick layer of gabbro. The magma that rises up through dikes and erupts on the seafloor creates the uppermost extrusive portion of the crust.

As you can imagine, a lot of MORB lava is erupted right at the mid-ocean ridge axis. So, early lava flows tend to be buried by later lava flows. As the lavas are buried, they tilt toward the ridge axis, creating a flexure zone. The picture below shows a side-view of a flexure zone. The mid-ocean ridge axis is in the middle of the pink lavas, which have buried the gray lavas, which have buried the green lavas, which have buried the blue lavas.

Side-view of a flexure zone showing lavas that dip toward the mid-ocean ridge axis (center). After Dowland, 2003.

Side-view of a flexure zone showing lavas that dip toward the mid-ocean ridge axis (center). After Dowland, 2003.

So yes, flexure zones dip toward the magma chamber, and yes, magma chambers fuel volcanoes. However, the flexure zone that I’ve worked on is part of the Snaefellsnes-Skagi Rift Zone (#2), which went extinct about 7 million years ago, so its magma chamber is long gone.

Now, let’s move on to your other questions:

Do these flexure zones make fissures?

Not exactly. Fissures typically develop above magma that is moving around in subsurface dikes. Sometimes, the magma reaches the surface and creates a fissure eruption, like the one pictured below.

Fissure eruption at Krafla.

Fissure eruption at Krafla.

Can you monitor the flexure zone’s movement?  And if you can, can you use that data to predict volcanic eruptions, if the flexure zones and volcanoes are somehow related?

Good question. Geologists definitely monitor ground movements around volcanoes in an effort to understand when they might erupt, although most of the instruments measure changes to the surface of the volcano. You can find more information about volcano monitoring at the USGS website.

And it seems that these huge folds have to disturb the rocks, so why are there so few earthquakes in Iceland?

You might be surprised by the number of earthquakes in Iceland. You can get up-to-the-minute information about Icelandic earthquakes at the website for the Icelandic Meteorological Office. The map below shows all of the earthquakes that occurred in Iceland over the 48 hours before this blog post. You can see that most of the earthquakes are located in the active rift zone or in the South Iceland Seismic Zone.

Earthquakes in Iceland over the past 48 hours. Red indicates 0-4 hours old; orange is 4-12 hours; yellow is 12-24 hours; light blue is 24-36 hours; dark blue is 36-48 hours.

Earthquakes in Iceland over the past 48 hours. Red indicates 0-4 hours old; orange is 4-12 hours; yellow is 12-24 hours; light blue is 24-36 hours; dark blue is 36-48 hours.

You also say that we can use this to learn how oceanic crust is formed?  Don’t we already know how?  Isn’t the sea-floor spreading how the crust is formed?

Yes, the ocean crust is formed through seafloor spreading, but we don’t know all the details about seafloor spreading yet. For example, there are a lot of questions about how the flexure zones form. How quickly are lavas buried? How deeply are lavas buried? How much of the flexure zone forms near the axis? How much forms far away from the axis? Are the lavas slipping on one another (like a deck of cards)? We have ideas about these questions, but we really need to do more research to understand the details.

I hope I answered your questions, Leo. Thanks for the email! Good luck on your research project!

Destroy, Pound, Crush, Grind

July 19th, 2009

After a relatively uneventful journey and a short stay in Wooster, we’ve made it to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. We’re spending the week analyzing our samples on Dickinson’s X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (XRF) and X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD). First, we need to turn our rocks into powder. We typically begin by cutting down the sample on a rock saw.

Adam slicing some of his rhyolites. It's a dirty job.

Adam slicing some of his rhyolites. It's a dirty job.

Then we grind the smaller pieces to get rid of any contamination introduced by the saw.

Adam grinding. It's a cleaner job.

Adam grinding. It's a cleaner job.

The samples get cleaned in a sonicator.

Todd cleaning his pillow basalts.

Todd cleaning his pillow basalts.

And the clean samples get set out to dry.

Todd's glasses drying on the lab bench.

Todd's glasses drying on the lab bench.

Finally, the samples can be crushed. We can crush them in a shatterbox or by hand using an agate mortar and pestle.

Rob powdering his zeolites by hand.

Rob powdering his zeolites by hand.

Voila! We have powder!

Pretty rock powders in neat little vials.

Pretty rock powders in neat little vials.

Blog Worlds Collide

July 14th, 2009

Now that we’re finished with field work, we’re back on the road. First, we stopped at Godafoss, one of Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls (also an excellent location for columnar joints!).

The Woo Crew stands at the edge of Godafoss, "waterfall of the gods."

The Woo Crew stands at the edge of Godafoss, "waterfall of the gods."

Next, we headed to Krafla, an active volcanic region in northern Iceland. Krafla includes Namafjall, a geothermal field with hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. It also encompasses Viti, a famous volcanic crater. The information center was open when we arrived, so we stopped to watch a short movie about Krafla’s eruptive history and how the Icelanders use Krafla’s geothermal energy to generate electricity. We even had a chance to look into the powerplant while it was operating.

Lobate flow at Krafla.

Lobate flow at Krafla.

Lava drips on the inside of a lava tube.

Lava drips on the inside of a lava tube.

Glassy texture on a pahoehoe lava flow.

Glassy texture on a pahoehoe lava flow.

Today, we’re back in Reykjavik. We had an opportunity to visit the Culture House, a museum that houses some the medieval sagas. The intricate details preserved in many of the ancient manuscripts were impressive.

The Woo Crew hangs out in Reykjavik.

The Woo Crew hanging out in Reykjavik.

After the Culture House, we bumped into some familiar faces…the Hales Fund Iceland Group! Blog worlds collided.

The Woo Crew joins forces with the Hales Group and invades Reykjavik.

The Woo Crew joins forces with the Hales Group and invades Reykjavik.

We chatted about rhyolites and glaciers, then headed to Reykjavik’s ultimate bakery. According to Rob, “It was good. Period.”

Iceland Permeates Our Everything

July 12th, 2009

Done! Today was our last day in the field. Rob finished hunting for zeolites on Vatnsdalsfjall.

Rob finishes his field work today.

Rob finished his field work today.

To get to the last field area, we had to cross “the deadly fields of sadness,” hummocky and swampy fields that are treacherous to walk across. One of us (guess who?) wished for a “luck dragon to fly us to the top of the mountain.” Then we had to cross a river. Adam kindly offered piggy-back rides to everyone. Rob took him up on it. Meanwhile, Todd and Meagen took a different approach.

Adam gives Rob a lift across the river.

Adam gives Rob a lift across the river.

Success!

Sweet success!

Todd tests his waterproof boots.

Todd tests how waterproof his boots are.

Yesterday, Adam finished his field work, but the day started with a small adventure. On our way to Adam’s last field site, the car somehow found a ditch! Fortunately, a nice elderly Icelandic farmer knows charades, and Meagen was able to ask him for help. He came to the rescue with his dog and his tractor! After that, we hit the rhyolite jackpot and Adam completed all of his I.S. sampling.

The Woo Crew with our trusty rental car.

The Woo Crew with our trusty rental car.

Like the Estonia Crew, we’re almost ready to head home, but not before we see Krafla and meet with the Hales Fund Iceland Group.

The Woo Crew completes a successful field season.

The Woo Crew completes a successful field season and walks off into the sunset (if only the sun would set!).

Langadalsfjall: Big Enough for Only One

July 9th, 2009

Over the past few days, Todd has been helping Yexary map a gabbro body in Skagastrond. They were highly productive and finished mapping today! Meanwhile, Adam, Rob, and Meagen are still on the wild rhyolite chase. Yesterday, we found rhyolite in a stream cut near Skagastrond, just where the map said it would be.

Adam and Rob getting their feet wet in a stream that Meagen refused to cross.

Adam and Rob getting their feet wet in a stream near Skagastrond that Meagen refused to cross.

Today, we climbed Langadalsfjall in search for rhyolite that was mapped near the very top. On the way up, we found lots of dikes intruding the sheet flows. The exposures were so great that we couldn’t help but sample.

Dikes intruding lavas - Adam for scale.

Dikes intruding lavas - Adam for scale.

We finally made it to the spot where the rhyolite should be only to find piles of rhyolite talus, grassy meadows, and white tuff. Despite our disappointment, we sampled the talus and enjoyed the awesome view.

Rob and Adam at the top of Vatnsdalsfjall.

Rob and Adam at the top of Langadalsfjall.

Unfortunately, we have a casualty to report. Rob thinks that Langadalsfjall is only big enough for one, so he tried to kill Adam in a rock avalanche and throw Meagen off a cliff. Thankfully, Adam and Meagen survived to see another day, but Meagen’s boots didn’t.

Part of Meagen's boot didn't make it back to base camp today.

Part of Meagen's boot didn't make it back to base camp today.

The Wild Rhyolite Chase

July 7th, 2009

The Woo-Crew has been working feverishly on their Iceland I.S. projects. Rob and Todd have been climbing the northern end of Vatnsdalsfjall for days, searching for zeolites. The last day was spooky as the thick fog cover came in and out with the wind direction, making it impossible to see at one moment and clear blue skies the next. Rob and Todd accomplished so much that they have been able to help Yexary, a Syracuse geology major, in her field area.

Yexary, Todd, and Rob mapping gabbro by the shore in Skagastrond.

Yexary, Todd, and Rob pausing to pose while mapping gabbro by the shore in Skagastrond.

Not only does the Iceland crew excel in Mineralogy and Petrology, but also in Invertebrate Paleontology (much like the Estonia group). We’ll see your unaltered hard parts and raise you an zeolite-filled olivine basalt!

Todd and Rob in the fossil-crouching position on the Skagi shore.

Todd and Rob in the fossil-crouching position on the Skagi shore.

The same day that they hunted fossils, Rob and Todd saved a baby duck that was struggling in a net on the shore. They are genuine heroes.

Adam, meanwhile, is on the hunt for the elusive rhyolite. After some early success, he has run into basalt where rhyolite has been mapped. Unfortunately, all of the rhyolite is mapped at the top of the mountains, so Adam has made several trips to the top just for the fun of it.

Adam at the top of Vatnsdalsfjall.

Adam at the top of Svinadalsfjall.

At the top of Svinadalsfjall, Adam, Rob, and Todd found a word spelled out in rocks: L-i-e-t-u-v-a. We don’t know what it means, but we decided to spell U-S-A in rocks right next to it.

Rob and Todd claim a mountain for the USA.

Rob and Todd claim a mountain for the USA.

Todd strikes a pose on the way up Vatnsdalsfjall.

Todd strikes a pose on the way up Vatnsdalsfjall.

Wooster Geologists Invade Skagi Peninsula

July 4th, 2009

We’re on the Skagi Peninsula now and internet access is a little more random. We started field work on Rob’s and Adam’s projects this week. Rob found some awesome zeolites – too many to name – and a lot of altered basalt (my poor babies!). Adam ran into some trouble early on because many of the rhyolites appear highly altered, but has managed to find some pretty decent samples that he can use for geochemical analyses.

Rob poses while searching for zeolites in sunny Iceland (not really sunny).

Rob poses while searching for zeolites in sunny Iceland (ha ha Estonia Group).

Adam conquers Vatnsdalsfjall on his way to the top to sample rhyolites.

Adam conquers Vatnsdalsfjall on his way to the top to sample rhyolites.

We’re living in a house with 12 people – sounds like a reality show (The Geology World or Big Brother: Geo-Style). Meagen is in a room with 4 girls – it looks like their clothes exploded. Todd, Rob, and Adam are sharing a room – it smells…refreshing(?). They have swum in the arctic ocean EVERY DAY since we arrived. They are CRAZY!

We’re going to be here until July 14. Sadly, we’ll be missing the Hunavaka, a local celebration with colorful balloons and music. Still, every day is a celebration when you’re doing geology!

The Great Basalt Race

July 2nd, 2009

Todd Finished his I.S. Research!!!! – Rob

Todd measuring the diameter of a pillow.

Todd measuring the diameter of a pillow.

The Iceland crew taking meticulous notes.

The Iceland crew taking meticulous notes.

Yes I did and it feels nice to say that I have my field work complete. Thanks to Meagen, Rob and Adam for all of their help! We had a good time in the quarries collecting samples and we even had some competetive racing.

Now its time to go to Blonduos to work on Rob’s and Adam’s projects. -Todd

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