The transport of Icelandic volcanic ash: insights from northern European cryptotephra records

E. J. Watson*, G. T. Swindles, J. A. Stevenson, I. Savov, I. T. Lawson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Fine ash produced during volcanic eruptions can be dispersed over a vast area, where it poses a threat to aviation, human health, and infrastructure. We analyze the particle size distributions, geochemistry, and glass shard morphology of 19 distal (>1000 km from source) volcanic ash deposits distributed across northern Europe, many geochemically linked to a specific volcanic eruption. The largest glass shards in the cryptotephra deposits were 250 µm (longest axis basis). For the first time, we examine the replicability and reliability of glass shard size measurements from peatland and lake archives. We identify no consistent trend in the vertical sorting of glass shards by size within lake and peat sediments. Measuring the sizes of 100 shards from the vertical sample of peak shard concentration is generally sufficient to ascertain the median shard size for a cryptotephra deposit. Lakes and peatlands in close proximity contain cryptotephras with significantly different median shard size in four out of five instances. The trend toward a greater amount of larger shards in lakes may have implications for the selection of distal sites to constrain the maximum glass shard size for modeling studies. Although the 95th percentile values for shard size generally indicate a loss of larger shards from deposits at sites farther from the volcano, due to the dynamic nature of the controls on tephra transport even during the course of one eruption there is no simple relationship between median shard size and transport distance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7177-7192
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number10
Early online date30 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2016


  • Iceland
  • northern Europe
  • probabilistic modeling
  • shard size
  • travel distance


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