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

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


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 (pH 2–7.5) 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 dominated by nanophase palagonite, sulphates (gypsum, jarosite), and iron oxides (goethite, hematite); and a high-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 (440–1000 nm) 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-77
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Early online date21 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - 15 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