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How fast is Iceland growing due to the tectonic plates drifting apart?

By Staff

  • Torn apart Iceland lies atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the N. American and Eurasian plates drift apart. This means half of Iceland is drifting east while the other half drifts west. Photo/Wikimedia commons

According to the latest measurements by the Icelandic National Land Survey Iceland is expanding at the rate of 2 cm (0.8 inches) each year as the eastern part of Iceland drifts to the east and the western part drifts to the west. Iceland sits atop the North Atlantic Ridge, where new land is constantly being created by magma welling up from the earth's core as the European and North American tectonic plates drift apart. 

Read more: Why the constant earthquakes? Iceland is slowly being torn apart

The Icelandic Land Survey keeps track of the drifting of the tectonic plates by measiring the precise location of 100 fixed points around Iceland. In the summer of 2016 an additional 150 points were tracked to get a more detailed picture of how the plate drift effects Iceland. 

Special attention was given to volcanically and geothermally active areas. The latest measurements were taken in 2004. According to the measurements taken this summer the expansion in the Kverkfjöll mountains, which are part of the Bárðarbunga volcanic system has been 60 cm, 23.6 inches. Guðmundur Valsson, an engineer with the Icelandic Land Survey told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that he did not know of a similar change anywhere in recent history.

Read more: Scientists keep a close eye on Bárðarbunga volcano as seismic activity keeps growing

The system has been extremely active in the past few years. The Holuhraun eruption in 2014-2015 and the powerful seismic activity in Bárðarbunga volcano in the past year is connected to this expansion in the system.

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