Post glacial volcanism and magmatism on the Askja volcanic system, North Iceland
Hartley, Margaret Elizabeth
Postglacial activity on the Askja volcanic system, north Iceland, has been dominated by basaltic volcanism. Over 80% of Askja's postglacial basalts fall within a relatively narrow compositional range containing between 4 and 8 wt.% MgO. The 'main series' is further divided into two groups separated by a distinct compositional gap evident in major and trace element concentrations. The most evolved basalts formed by fractional crystallisation within shallow magma reservoirs, followed by the extraction of residual liquid from a semi-rigid, interconnected crystal network. This process is analogous to the formation of melt segregations within single lava flows, and was responsible for generating several small-volume, aphyric basaltic lavas erupted along caldera ring fractures surrounding the Oskjuvatn (Askja lake) caldera in the early 20th century. Further examples of evolved basalt are found throughout Askja's postglacial volcanic record. However, Askja's early postglacial output is dominated by more primitive compositions. Some of the most primitive basalts erupted within the Askja caldera are found in phreatomagmatic tuff cone sequences which crop out in the walls of Oskjuvatn caldera. one such tuff sequence has been dated at between 2.9 and 3.6 ka. This tuff cone shares geochemical source characteristics, such as Nb/La and Nb/Zr, with basaltic tephras erupted during precursory activity to the Plinian-phreatoplinian eruption of 28th-29th March 1875. It may therefore be considered to be compositionally representative of the primitive basaltic magmas supplied to Askja during the postglacial period. The predominance of relatively primitive basalt (6.8 wt.% MgO) within Askia's postglacial lava succession suggests that it did not have a permanent shallow magma chamber during the postglacial period. It is envisaged that the postglacial Askja magmas evolved by a process of polybaric factionation in transient, sill-like magma storage zones located at various levels in the crust. The most primitive magmas erupted directly from deeper reservoirs, while the more evolved magmas experienced longer crustal residence times. The buoyant rise of volatile-enriched melt from these sill-like bodies, without mobilising phenocryst phases, explains the observation that almost all lavas on Askja's eastern and southern lava aprons are essentially aphyric. The 28th-29th March 1975 eruption marked the climax of a volcanotectonic episode on the Askja volanic system lasting from late 1874 to early 1876. Fissure eruptions also occurred at the Sveinagja graben, 45-65 km north of Askja, between February and October 1875, producing the Nyjahraun lava. A strong similarity exists between whole-rock major element concentrations from Myjahraun and the Askja 20th century basalts. This has led to the suggestion that these basalts originated from a common shallow magma reservoir beneath Askja central volcano, with the Nyjahraun eruptions being fed by a lateral dyke extending northwards from Askja. This theory also offers an explanation for the observation that the volume of phyolitic ejecta from 28th-29th March 1875 is significantly less than the volume of Oskjuvatn caldera, which was formed as a result of this eruption. New major and trace element data from whole-rock and glass samples indicated that Nyjahraun and the Askja 20th century basalts did not share a common parental magma. A detailed investigation of historical accounts from explorers and scientists who visited Askja between 1875 and 1932 reveals that Oskjuvatn caldera took over 40 years to reach its current form, and that its size in 1876 was equal to the volume erupted on 28th-29th March 1875. Small injections of magma into an igneous intrusion complex beneath Askja, coupled with background deflation, are sufficient to provide the required accommodation space for continued caldera collapse after 1876. Lateral flow is therefore not required to explain the volume of Oskjuvatn caldera, nor the eruption of evolved basaltic magma on the Askja volcanic system in 1875. It has been conjectured that the Holuhraun lava, located at the southern tip of the Askja volcanic system, was also connected with the 1874-76 Askja volcanotectonic episode. However, major and trace element data from whole-rock samples, glass and melt inclusions receal the Holuhraun is geochemically more similar to basalts erupted on the Bardarbunga-Veidivotn volcanic system than to postglacial basalts from Askja. The division between the 'Askja' and 'Veidivotn' geochemical signatures appears to be linked to east-west-striking lineations in the region south of Askja. This indicates that a particular geochemical signature is not necessarily confined to the tectonic expression of a single volcanic system, and has important implications for the identification and delineation of individual volcanic systems beneath the northwest sector of Vatnajokull.