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Fire and Fury in Iceland: Tracking Molten Rock from Deep in the Earth to Eruption at the Surface

27 January, 2020 @ 7:30 pm 9:00 pm

To be given by Professor Bob White FRS
Professor of Geophysics, Bullard Laboratories, Cambridge

Joint lecture with the Geology Section

Volcanic eruptions in Iceland have fascinated writers for centuries. In 1775 Benjamin Franklin correctly identified the cause of the terrible weather that summer in Europe as caused by an eruption in Iceland, which turned out to be the biggest known historic eruption. In 1864 Jules Verne based his ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ on a presumed volcanic conduit beneath the Icelandic volcano Hekla. In 2014 we were fortunate to capture the largest eruption in Iceland since 1775, this time with modern instrumentation. We were able to track the molten rock as it travelled sideways underground for 50 km before erupting in central Iceland, using the 50,000 tiny earthquakes it generated as it cracked its way forwards.* I will describe our work in one of the remotest areas on earth tracking the molten rock, with videos of the eruption and advancing lava flows taken from within touching distance of the molten rock.

Bob White is Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1994. He leads a research group investigating the Earth’s dynamic crust particularly the way in which enormous volumes of volcanic rock are produced when continents and oceans rift apart, and the movement of molten rock under active volcanoes. His research group is currently investigating the internal structure of volcanoes in Iceland. Professor White is also founding Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and his latest book addresses scientific and theological aspects of so-called ‘natural disasters’: Who is to Blame? Nature, Disasters and Acts of God.

* Sigmundsson, F., Hooper, A., Hreinsdóttir, S. et al. Segmented lateral dyke growth in a rifting event at Bárðarbunga volcanic system, Iceland. Nature, 517, 191–195 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14111

The speaker, Professor Bob White with the President, Gillian Johnston and Professor Aftab Khan who gave the vote of thanks

To be held at the New Walk Museum: