Iceland: the first observatory under a volcano



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Iceland: the first observatory under a volcano

New studies and new results on volcanoes could arrive from Iceland, when the Krafla Magma Testbed, the first underground laboratory built in the vicinity of a magma bed located about 2 km deep, will begin in the next few years.

The Krafla volcano, in Iceland, has an unusually shallow magma chamber below it: it is located just 2.1 km below the surface, as the engineers of the geothermal plant built right near the volcano discovered by chance in 2009.

The chamber contains about 500 million cubic meters of lava, at a depth that is about half of what volcanologists expected to find it. The first excavations of the laboratory are scheduled for 2024. They will tell us a lot about how magma works under a volcano, since for the first time we will be able to observe it directly and not only when it reaches the surface.

Iceland: the first observatory under a volcano

The laboratory is the deepest ever built, 2km below the surface. The project should help to find clean energy sources, if it were possible to exploit the extreme heat produced by the magma it could be used to replace the current geothermal plant, which needs 18 wells to produce 60 megawatts of energy.

Magma and lava differ in their chemical composition. Magma is also the name given to that complex of molten rocks, also containing dissolved liquids and gases, which is formed by melting the mantle and, if subjected to certain forces, can rise to the surface.

Here it can accumulate in areas called magma chambers, which are, in short, the reservoir of material that feeds the volcano above. When it erupts, the magma chamber empties, and the magma that escapes, upon contact with the air, becomes lava.

Krafla is a caldera of about 10 km and with a 90 km long fissure located in the north of Iceland in the Mývatn region. Its highest peak measures 818m, has erupted 29 times and is 2km deep. Krafla includes one of the two most famous Víti craters with a lake inside, the other is located in Askja.

Krafla also includes the Hverir geothermal area, along the Hringvegur on the Námaskarð pass of Mount Námafjall, with active mud volcanoes and fumaroles. Between 1724 and 1729 there was the phenomenon of the Mývatn fires caused by the release of some outlets from the fissure, lava fountains were seen in the south of the island and a lava flow destroyed three farms near the village of Reykjahlid, however no one was injured . In 1977 a 60 MW power plant was built to exploit geothermal energy.