What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Iceland Eruption Update for 3/24/2010

March 24, 2010, 4:48 AM

The fissure vent eruption near Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. Image by Þorsteinn Gunnarsson, March 22, 2010.

It has been hard to keep up with the flood of news from the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland. Eruptions readers have done a good job with getting new images, videos and info up as they happen, so you might want to peruse the comments for those sorts of tidbits (along with discussion of what might be happening).

Here is the latest:
The eruption at Fimmvörduháls (considering the eruption is actually occurring between the ice caps) could last weeks to months, which isn't too surprising for a basaltic fissure event. So far the amount of erupted basalt is relatively small, with most of the lava confined to the area around the fissure and what looks like a drainage the lava is exploiting that heads to the northeast. There also seems to be indications that some of the fissure is coalescing into a spatter cone/scoria cone - where you can see how asymmetrical it is thanks to the wind most likely (see above). Icelandic scientists were able to take samples of the basalt, so we will hopefully know some more about its composition in the near future, but Dr. Haraldur Sigurdsson, the most famous of Iceland's volcanologists, sees this eruption as very similar to the 1973 eruption in the Westman Islands. As of Monday, the fissure lavas have covered ~0.34 km2

There are quite a few webcams up where you can watch the eruption, just showing the technological world we live in where I can watch an eruption in Iceland live whenever I want. You can also see a pile of images taken by people on Visir.is. The eruption is actually "open for tourists", much like many of the eruptions in Hawai`i. This is not to say that it is safe to head there outside the bounds that the Icelandic government has set, but many people could get the chance to see a fissure eruption first hand (ah, if only for the time and the money).

There has been a number of articles I've seen that have pondered the global consequences of this eruption - mostly thanks to whatever aerosols like sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide - might have on global climate in the short term. Right now, I would say that anyone being definite about what might happen is, well, full of it. Many of the articles have been making a big deal of the Eyjafjallajokull-Katla connection because "historically" when Eyjafjallajokull erupts, Katla follows. However, the key here is "historically" - even with the relatively long record of humans on Iceland, any historic record is much less than the lifespan of these volcanoes. That is not to say it won't happen, so Katla should be watched closely.

Also, there has been much discussion in the Eruptions comment about the nature of volcanism in Iceland and the relationship between the seemingly rhyolitic history of Eyjafjallajokull and this basaltic eruption. Well, we know that rhyolite melts can be produced in this rift/hot spot setting, thanks to the direct sampling of such melts, so the fact that the volcano was rhyolitic previously is no surprise. It actually isn't much of a surprise that you can get a basaltic eruption in a rhyolitic center, either. It is called "bimodal volcanism", where you can have the same volcano (or nearby volcanoes) erupt both basalt and rhyolite, almost contemporaneous. In fact, I've worked on a volcano with a similar history, that being New Zealand's Mt. Tarawera, where the history of the volcano was dominantly rhyolite until the most recent eruption in 1886, which was a basalt. This basaltic eruption didn't trigger any massive remelting and eruption of the underlying rhyolite mush from previous eruption - although you can find nifty melting rhyolite chunks in the basalt. If you actually do some of the calculations, it takes a lot of energy to totally melt a rhyolite mush to the point that it might become eruptible (>50% melt?), so this small amount of basalt at Eyjafjallajokull doesn't seem like enough so far - and anyway, what you really want is the basalt to pond under the rhyolite, not blast right through it any erupt.

{Hat tip to everyone who has posted links I used in this. Keep up the good work!}


Iceland Eruption Update for...

Newsletter: Share: