Glaciovolcanic hydrothermal environments in Iceland and implications for their detection on Mars

C. R. Cousins, I. A. Crawford, J. L. Carrivick, M. Gunn, J. Harris, T. P. Kee, M. Karlsson, L. Carmody, C. Cockell, B. Herschy, K. H. Joy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Volcanism has been a dominant process on Mars, along with a pervasive global cryosphere. Therefore, the interaction between these two is considered likely. Terrestrial glaciovolcanism produces distinctive lithologies and alteration terrains, as well as hydrothermal environments that can be inhabited by microorganisms. Here, we provide a framework for identifying evidence of such glaciovolcanic environments during future Mars exploration, and provide a descriptive reference for active hydrothermal environments to be utilised for future astrobiological studies. Remote sensing data were combined with field observations and sample analysis that included X-ray diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, thin section petrography, scanning electron microscopy, electron dispersive spectrometer analysis, and dissolved water chemistry to characterise samples from two areas of basaltic glaciovolcanism: Askja and Kverkfjöll volcanoes in Iceland. The glaciovolcanic terrain between these volcanoes is characterised by subglacially-erupted fissure swarm ridges, which have since been modified by multiple glacial outburst floods. Active hydrothermal environments at Kverkfjöll include hot springs, anoxic pools, glacial meltwater lakes, and sulphur- and iron-depositing fumaroles, all situated within ice-bound geothermal fields. Temperatures range from 0°C-94.4°C, and aqueous environments are acidic-neutral (pH2-7.5) and sulphate-dominated. Mineralogy of sediments, mineral crusts, and secondary deposits within basalts suggest two types of hydrothermal alteration: a low-temperature (120°C) assemblage signified by zeolite (heulandite) and quartz. These mineral assemblages are consistent with those identified at the Martian surface. In-situ and laboratory VNIR (440-1000nm) reflectance spectra representative of Mars rover multispectral imaging show sediment spectral profiles to be influenced by Fe2+/3+-bearing minerals, regardless of their dominant bulk mineralogy. Characterising these terrestrial glaciovolcanic deposits can help identify similar processes on Mars, as well as identifying palaeoenvironments that may once have supported and preserved life. © 2013 Published by Elsevier B.V.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)61-77
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2013


    • Analogue
    • Astrobiology
    • Glaciovolcanism
    • Hydrothermal
    • Mars
    • Mineralogy


    Dive into the research topics of 'Glaciovolcanic hydrothermal environments in Iceland and implications for their detection on Mars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this