The chemical composition of rivers and snow affected by the 2014/2015 Bárðarbunga eruption, Iceland

Iwona Galeczka, Gunnar Sigurdsson, Eydis Salome Eiriksdottir, Eric H. Oelkers, Sigurður Reynir Gíslason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The 2014/15 Bárðarbunga volcanic eruption was the largest in Iceland for more than 200 years. This eruption released into the atmosphere on average 60,000 tonnes/day of SO2, 30,000 tonnes/day of CO2, and 500 tonnes/day of HCl affecting the chemical composition of rain, snow, and surface water. The interaction of these volcanic gases with natural waters, decreases fluid pH and accelerates rock dissolution. This leads to the enhanced release of elements, including toxic metals such as aluminium, to these waters. River monitoring, including spot and continuous osmotic sampling, shows that although the water conductivity was relatively stable during the volcanic unrest, the dissolution of volcanic gases increased the SO4, F, and Cl concentrations of local surface waters by up to two orders of magnitude decreasing the carbon alkalinity. In addition the concentration of SiO2, Ca, Mg, Na and trace metals rose considerably due to the water–molten lava and hot solid lava interaction. The presence of pristine lava and acidic gases increased the average chemical denudation rate, calculated based on Na flux, within Jökulsá á Fjöllum catchment by a factor of two compared to the background flux. Melted snow samples collected at the eruption site were characterised by a strong dependence of the pH on SO4, F and Cl and metal concentrations, indicating that volcanic gases and aerosols acidified the snow. Protons balanced about half of the negatively charged anions; the rest was balanced by water–soluble salts and aerosols containing a variety of metals including Al, Fe, Na, Ca, and Mg. The concentrations of F, Al, Fe, Mn, Cd, Cu, and Pb in the snowmelt water surpassed drinking- and surface water standards. Snowmelt–river water mixing calculations indicate that low alkalinity surface waters, such as numerous salmon rivers in East Iceland, will be more affected by polluted snowmelt waters than high alkalinity spring and glacier fed rivers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-119
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016

Other keywords

  • Volcanic eruption
  • Bárðarbunga volcano
  • Holuhraun lava
  • Dissolved fluxes
  • Weathering rates
  • Snow pollution
  • Eldgos
  • Hraun
  • Gosefni
  • Veðrun
  • Bárðarbunga
  • Holuhraun


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