Tuffen, Hugh; Gilbert, Jennie and McGarvie, Dave
Products of an effusive subglacial rhyolite eruption: Bláhnúkur, Torfajökull, Iceland.
Bulletin of Volcanology, 63(2-3) pp. 179–190.
We present field observations from Bláhnúkur, a small volume (<0.1 km3) subglacial rhyolite edifice at the Torfajökull central volcano, south-central Iceland. Bláhnúkur was probably emplaced during the last glacial period (ca. 115–11 ka). The characteristics of the deposits suggest that they were formed by an effusive eruption in an exclusively subglacial environment, beneath a glacier >400 m thick. Lithofacies associations attest to complex patterns of volcano-ice interaction. Erosive channels at the base of the subglacial sequence are filled by both eruption-derived material and subglacial till, which show evidence for deposition by flowing meltwater. This suggests that meltwater was able to drain away from the vent area during the eruption. Much of the subglacial volcanic deposits consist of conical-to-irregularly shaped lava lobes typically 5–10 m long, set in poorly sorted breccias with an ash-grade matrix. A gradational lavabreccia contact at the base of lava lobes represents a fossilised fragmentation interface, driven by magma-water interaction as the lava flowed over poorly consolidated, waterlogged debris. Sets of columnar joints on the upper surfaces of lobes are interpreted as ice-contact features. The morphology of the lobes suggests that they chilled within conically shaped subglacial cavities 2–5 m high. Avalanche deposits mantling the flanks of Bláhnúkur appear to have been generated by the collapse of lava lobes and surrounding breccia. A variety of deposit characteristics suggests that this occurred both prior to and after quenching of the lava lobes. Collapse events may have occurred when the supporting ice walls were melted back from around the cooling lava lobes and breccias. Much larger lava flows were emplaced in the latter stages of the eruption. Columnar joint patterns suggest that these flowed and chilled within subglacial cavities 20 m high and 100–200 m in length. There is little evidence for magma-water interaction at lava flow margins which suggests that these larger cavities were drained of meltwater. As rhyolite magma rose to the base of the glacier, the nature of the subglacial cavity system played an important role in governing the style of eruption and the volcanic facies generated. We present evidence that the cavity system evolved during the eruption, reflecting variations in both melting rate and edifice growth that are best explained by a fluctuating eruption rate.
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