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Landscape reaction, response, and recovery following the catastrophic 1918 Katla jökulhlaup, southern Iceland

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Andrew RussellORCiD


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One of the largest recorded glacier outburst floods (jokulhlaups) occurred in 1918, generated by the last major subglacial eruption of Katla volcano in southern Iceland. Using digitized historical topographic surveys and field observations from the main proglacial outwash plain (Myrdalssandur), we document the reaction of Myrdalssandur to the 1918 event and subsequent response and recovery. Our analysis highlights the longevity of elevated topography, over the recovery period, and the complete reorganization of the main perennial meltwater channel system, both of which will affect and condition the flow routing and impact of future jokulhlaups. The jokulhlaup deposited approximately 2 km(3) of sediment onto Myrdalssandur immediately after the event and extended the coastline by several kilometers. However, 80% of this material by volume has since been removed by surface and subsurface water flow on the main sandur and by marine reworking at the coast. By 2007, the surface elevation at specific locations on the outwash plain and the position of the coastline were similar to those in 1904, indicating near-complete recovery of the landscape. Despite this, the Myrdalssandur coastline has experienced net advance over the past 1000 years. Using our calculated characteristic landscape response and recovery values following the 1918 event (60 years and 120 years) we deduce that the landscape has been in a dominant state of transience, with regard to forcing frequency and timescale of recovery, over the past 1000 years, which has facilitated long-term landscape growth.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Duller RA, Warner NH, McGonigle C, De Angelis S, Russell AJ, Mountney NP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geophysical Research Letters

Year: 2014

Volume: 41

Issue: 12

Pages: 4214-4221

Print publication date: 28/06/2014

Online publication date: 25/06/2014

Acceptance date: 17/05/2014

ISSN (print): 0094-8276

ISSN (electronic): 1944-8007

Publisher: American Geophysical Union


DOI: 10.1002/2014GL060090


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