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E-W Trend of Faults on Ocean Floor – for a Reason

Reasoning the obvious: There are E-W trending faults on the ocean floor all around the globe. Here is an example from the North Atlantic. The reason is simple, namely the way material breaks up due to the forces around, and in this case the forces are regulated by the effect of Earth’s rotation. The flow of magma, and thereby the mantle convection rolls have to sway accordingly, and northwards horizontal flow has to be symmetric to southwards horizontal flow. The result is a mantle pattern symmetry along N-S and E-W axis, and therefore these structures aligned in the main directions appears quite often.

E-W trend of Central North Atlantic Ocean Floor.

The huge forces creating this pattern should not be underestimated. The convection rolls of lower mantle have created the Atlantic Ocean, slowly but steadily over millions of years. Perhaps this is too big for modern science to investigate properly. We want details and accurate measurement. This is too big to imagine, and how to measure the size and power of it? The answer is that we can not detect the mantle flow with enough accuracy for scientists to provide reasonable results. Therefore, I have chosen an inverse way to decipher the convection rolls system, introduced piece by piece on this website.

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The Apparently Additional Volcanic System of Fagradalsfjall on Reykjanes Peninsula

The volcano now erupting in Iceland has often not been included as an independent volcanic site on geology maps. It is a bit embarrassing now when Fagradalsfjall Volcano and the eruption site of Geldingadalir has become world famous. The volcanic zone of Reykjanes has a few volcanic systems, arranged en echelon along the peninsula from west to east. Having a model where the origin of magma is traced to the Mid-Ocean Ridge of the Atlantic Ocean, namely the Reykjanes Ridge, the result can be described with these maps:

The investigation area is marked with red.
Simplified polygons superimposed on map from Reykjanes Geopark.

Many different details make maps unclear, so down below is the same map slightly clarified:

The volcanic systems shown schematically in context with model. Upwelling convection rolls division line extending NE from Reykjanes Ridge (RR) is supposed to feed the volcanic systems.

Ttectonic drift causes upbreaking within the polygons, providing channels for vertical influx of magma. First, the magma flows below Moho, within ductile material, and unnoticed on the surface, causing virtually no earthquakes. Then the magma breaks into the brittle part of the tectonic plate, at Reykjanes found at the depth of about 15 km. After that, the magma tends to create dikes perpendicular to the original flow direction, namely NE-SW. This takes place at the boundaries between the two tectonic plates of N-America and Eurasia. At the Reykjanes Peninsula the line is actually a few kilometers wide area, found in context with the Reykjanes Ridge on one hand and the South Iceland Seismic Zone on the other hand. A central axis can therefore be defined, and a distinct seismic zone that can be traced along the entire peninsula in context with the division line between the plates. The volcanically and seismically active areas are mainly found south of the theoretically central division line, here marked with a black curved line along the peninsula. The horizontal magma flow is then found to occur along the division lines between polygons, and two lines appearing as the polygon gives in to the tectonic drift effects.

As a result, the volcanic systems of Eldvörp-Svartsengi, Krýsuvík, Brennisteinsfjöll and Hengill, are found directly in context with the magma flow, both within and at the sides of, the Reykjanes Polygon. The high temperature areas are found where the southern margin of the seismic zone crosses the volcanic systems. One system is defineable at the westernmost end, called Reykjanes Volcanic System, but according to the model it has its origin within the next polygon to the south-west.

Fagradalsfjall is clearly missing from what is said above, but likewise it is obviously erupting, so why is that? Looking at the model drawing, the opportunity for the magma flow mainly feeding the Krýsuvík Volcanic System, to ascend earlier through a weakness zone arises, where it crosses the main, central division line between the tectonic plates. This time, it should have happened according to this model, and the magma created a dike aligned towars S-W, triggering the eruption.

The feeding line of Krýsuvík Volcanic System is also responsible for the Fagradalsfjall Volcanic Systems, because the division line is forced to bend along the polygon, in order to make the connection between RR and SISZ possible. Likewise, it can be difficult to distinguish the division between Reykjanes Volcanic System and Eldvörp-Svartsengi Volcanic System. Therefore, for a long time, some geologists have only talked about four volcanic systems of Reykjanes, while others have seen six different systems.

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Westman Islands Arrangement

The Westman Islands are mainly distributed along a line from SW to NE, and Surtsey happens to be the outermost point to the SW. The outer framework is a polygon, of which only the northern half is volcanically active. The polygon is subject to the effects of tectonic drift and magmatic intrusion, and tends to be divided into regular parts. First, an E-W axis is formed, as is common for other polygons nearby. Then, the northern half is divided into roughly 3 parts, as shown here:

The Westman Islands Polygon.

The real picture is of course somewhat more complicated, as seen here:

Westman Island Polygon – Divisions due to tectonic drift marked with black lines.

Looking at the Geldingadalir eruption, the 1/3 divisions are also dectable there, but partly distorted because the division line between N-America and Eurasia is swayed, so a direct E-W axis between east and west corners does not form.

Breakup trend of Reykjanes Polygon

The similarities between the two polygons are striking, and it is curious that these somewhat parallel events occur within a century. This is also one clue about the eventual duration of the Geldingadalir eruption.

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Comparing Geldingadalir and Surtsey Eruptions

Noticing the similarities between the two eruptions of Geldingadalir and Surtsey, we should also be aware of the differences. Let us have a look at the maps:

Geldingadalir eruption for comparison with Surtsey eruption.
Surtsey eruption for comparison with Geldingadalir eruption.

Identical squares with the length of 23 km have been inserted for orientation. The similarities can partly be explained referring to the central axis of the Westman Islands Polygon on one hand and the division line between the N-American Tectonic Plate and the Eurasian Tectonic Plate on the Reykjanes Peninsula on the other hand.

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Parallel Geometry of Geldingadalir and Surtsey Eruptions

Scientists have already mentioned that Surtsey and Geldingadalir eruptions have something in common. Both have the characteristics of effusive eruptions (shield volcanoes), and the flow rate of basaltic lava is similar. Looking at the convection rolls model, the two locations of ascending magma are exactly parallel to each other. Comparing the framework of the two polygons of Reykjanes and Westman Islands, they are alomost copy-paste of each other. In turn, Surtsey has the same location within Westman Islands Polygon as has the ascending magma where it flows into the dike of Geldingadalir eruption, close to Keilir Volcano.

The parallel geometry of Geldingadalir and Surtsey.

The narrow, black line, parallel to the NW-SE trending convection rolls division line (blue), does cross the ascending spots of magma for Geldingadalir and Surtsey. The Geldingadalir eruption is fed by a dike, but the flow into the dike is not directly below the eruption site, but closer to Keilir Volcano, farther NE. Considering that the lower inflow of magma was more or less directly below Surtsey, the spots are identical for the polygon of Reykjanes and polygon of Westman Islands.

Scientists have reasoned that Surtsey eruption and Heimaey eruption in 1973 were actually connected events, meaning that magma from Surtsey was connected with Heimaey. Therefore we can draw a line in between Surtsey and Heimaey. That line is parallel to the dike formed at the Geldingadalir eruption site. It is tempting to consider that the dike did also extend to the SW from Surtsey, towards the downwelling division line (blue color).

Both eruptions have the same distance from the theoretical upwelling division line between convection rolls, which should be the original feeders of magma for those eruptions. The process is complicated, because the hot magma from underneath does melt material within the crust, which then erupts and forms lava on the surface. Some mixing takes place, as described in this article about the three magmatic components in the 1973 eruption of Eldfell volcano, Iceland: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232395907_Three_magmatic_components_in_the_1973_eruption_of_Eldfell_volcano_Iceland_Evidence_from_plagioclase_crystal_size_distribution_CSD_and_geochemistry