Photo from 30 November 1963, showing the 16-day-old cone that would later become Surtsey, an island off the southern coast of Iceland. Photo by Howell Williams/NOAA

Surtsey, an isolated oceanic island and a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is a uniquely well-documented natural laboratory for investigating processes of rift zone volcanism, hydrothermal alteration of basaltic tephra, and biological colonization and succession in surface and subsurface pyroclastic deposits. Deposits from Surtsey’s eruptions from 1963 to 1967 were first explored via a 181-meter hole drilled in 1979 by the U.S. Geological Survey and Icelandic Museum of Natural History.

A workshop convened on Heimaey Island, Iceland, developed the scientific rationale and logistical strategies for a forthcoming proposal to fund a new drilling program at Surtsey. Twenty-four scientists from 10 countries, including representatives from the Surtsey Research Society and the Environment Agency of Iceland, attended the Surtsey Underwater Volcanic System for Thermophiles, Alteration Processes and Innovative Concretes (SUSTAIN) drilling program workshop, funded by the International Continental Drilling Program (ICDP). The collaborative investigations proposed by SUSTAIN’s scientific team focus on three ICDP research themes: volcanic systems and geothermal regimes, the geobiosphere, and natural resources—­as applied to environmentally sustainable pyroclastic rock concretes.

The synergistic approach agreed upon by the workshop participants aims to integrate new interdisciplinary findings about original constructive and eruptive processes at Surtsey with new studies of mineralogical processes in the 50-year-old deposits and new monitoring and exploration of the active hydrothermal system and subterrestrial microbial colonization. The workshop participants came to the decision that questions about the active evolution of thermal conditions and the role of abiotic and biotic processes in the progressive lithification of basaltic tephra, the nature of hydrothermal alteration, and the growth of a rare calcium silicate and zeolite assemblage above and below sea level over the past 35 years could be answered only by drilling near the site of the previous hole in the eastern crater of the volcano.

Through discussion and collaboration, the SUSTAIN workshop participants developed a proposed drilling program based on two cored holes, designed to protect the sensitive wildlife and vegetative habitats of the Surtsey Natural Reserve. A clean 200-­meter-­deep vertical hole with anodized aluminum casing would allow scientists to explore pore water chemistry, ­microbiota-­water­rock interactions, and seawater compositional modifications over time in a future “observatory” with in situ experiments. A 300-meter-long hole with steel casing inclined west toward the eastern volcanic vent axis would intersect dike intrusions beneath the crater, enabling researchers to gain additional information on deep stratigraphy and structure and to investigate the higher­temperature zones of the hydrothermal system.

Indigenous subterrestrial microbiota have been detected below a 130°C thermal barrier, disseminated in fluids from the underlying seafloor. Quantifying the subseafloor biosphere has become an important scientific goal of research programs, including the International Ocean Discovery Program, yet it is exceedingly difficult and costly to investigate these processes at depths of oceanic ridge systems. Meeting participants designed an experimental observatory within the proposed vertical hole that would provide quantifications of microbial alteration in seafloor basalt and rates of reaction in an evolving hydrothermal system. Phase stability relationships in the calcium silicate and zeolite mineral assemblage, which has cation exchange capabilities for radionuclides and heavy metals, should provide a well-­constrained geological analogue for innovative concrete encapsulations of hazardous wastes.

After development of a comprehensive data management system and an education outreach program for the global public, the SUSTAIN workshop participants will submit a full drilling proposal to ICDP. The full text of this meeting report can be found in the supporting information in the online version of this article. More information about the proposed drill site can be found at http://​­surtsey​.icdp​-online​.org.

—Marie D. Jackson, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley; email:

Citation: Jackson, M. (2014), New proposed drilling at Surtsey Volcano, Iceland, Eos Trans. AGU, 95(51), 488, doi:10.1002/2014EO510006.

© 2014. American Geophysical Union. All rights reserved.

© 2014. American Geophysical Union. All rights reserved.