A Tephrochronological Database

Welcome to the Tephrabase website

Tephrabase is undergoing a major redesign, which will make information easier to find [16/6/2014]

Tephra layers (volcanic ash layers) are now an invaluable tool in palaeoenvironmental studies. The data produced by such research can be difficult to handle and disseminate. Tephrabase is a database of tephra layers found in Iceland, north-west and northern Europe, Russia and central Mexico. Details on the location, name, age and geochemistry of tephra layers are stored in the database, as well as information about relevant volcanoes and volcanic systems. A comprehensive reference database is also included. A new Laacher See supplementary data collection has been added.

Glaciology and Volcanology on the Centenary of Sigurður Þórarinsson's Birth: A Special Issue

Sigurður Þórarinsson Special Edition of Jökull

2012 marked the centenary of the birth the great Icelandic geographer Sigurður Þórarinsson (1912-1983), who was the pioneer of tephrochronology and glaciological studies in Iceland. To commerate this important anniversary, Jökull Icelandic Journal of Earth Sciences published a special edition. It contains some 16 articles on a wide range of subjects that have been heavily influenced by Sigurður Þórarinsson. These include articles on how to extend tephrochronology beyond its traditional uses, distal tephras in Sweden, marine tephrochronology on the Iceland Shelf, glaciological studies of Langjökull, Kotárjökull, Sólheimajökull and Öræfajökull amongst others.

Contents of Jökull volume 62 and Table of contents for volumes 1 - 62.

TIQS Spring Meeting 2011

Further details on the inaugural TIQS meeting which was held at University of Edinburgh 5th-6th May, including the Report and Community Statement, can be viewed here.

Grímsvötn Eruption 21 May to 28 May 2011

Iceland's most active volcano Grímsvötn began erupting on the 21 May between 18:00-19:00 GMT. Grímsvötn last erupted in 2004 and is located beneath Vatnajökull, Iceland's largest ice cap. The eruption column reached a maximum altitude of 20km, much higher than the one from Grímsvötn's 2004 eruption or last year's Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The Icelandic Meteorological Office and Institute of Earth Sciences reported that on the 22nd May, ash (tephra) fallout has been "massive east from Kirkjubæjarklaustur west to the center of Mýrdalssandur. The visibility is virtually zero. The fallout is most concentrated south of the volcano, but less dense to the north and east". The Route 1 ring road was closed between Vík and Skaftafell due to the eruption initially. The intensity of the eruption decreased with time until there was very little activity was occuring by the 25th May. The end of the eruption was reported as being at 07:00 May 28th May when the eruption tremor stopped.

The eruption column height dropped to around 10km later on Sunday 22nd May and the 23 May Status Report reported that it had dropped to between 5-9km. On the 24 May, the London VAAC were reporting that the ash plume was around 5km in height and both the lightening and seismic activity at Grímsvötn reported by the Icelandic Meteorological Office was much reduced. All of these showed a waning in the eruption intensity. This was an intense eruption, much larger than any recent activity in Iceland. This was a tholeiite-basalt eruption, with initial whole rock analyses showing a SiO2 content of between 50-51%. Basaltic eruptions are usually effusive (ie not explosive), but the violent interaction between water (melted ice from the overlying ice cap) and the magma mean that steam explosions occur which fragment the magma into tephra (volcanic ash). This geochemistry and type of eruption is typical for Grímsvötn.

The 23rd May Status report also reported that a large glacial flood was unlikely, as the eruption is in the same location as the 2004 activity and the ice is relatively thin.

The 24th May Status report confirmed that activity had decreased from the initial intense phase of the eruption. The eruption column was generally no higher than 5km and the Icelandic Meteorological Office were using a portable weather radar to monitor the plume. The main tephra axis is to the south/south south west, with the tephra clouds mainly between Lomagnupur and Myrdalsjökull, although Kirkjubaejarklaustur experienced much decreased tephra fall. No earthquakes were reported during the last day, but the eruption tremor remained stable.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office's Tremor graph showed a dramatic drop in the intensity of the eruption in the early hours of the 25th May. London VAAC confirmed that the eruption is currently paused since 02.40 25 May. The status report issued on the 25 May confirmed that activity had dramatically reduced to small scale explosions, with only local tephra deposition. Relatively little ice appears to have been melted, again suggesting that the chances of a large flood were much reduced. The 26 May Status Report confirmed that there was very little limited activity in the crater, with little change from the 25 May and the explosions that were occuring were only depositing tephra locally.

The 30th May Status Report confirmed the end of the eruption as being 07:00 May on 28th May when the eruption tremor stopped.

Ash Fall and Collection

Grímsvötn 2011 MODIS image May 22 2011
NASA’s Terra satellite MODIS image taken at 13:00 UTC on May 22, 2011. (Image NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response)

Unlike last year, meteorological conditions have been very changeable and it was difficult to be certain about the exact distribution or timing of the arrival of the ash cloud. However, the London VAAC were able to predict that UK airspace would be affected by ash on Tuesday 24th May. This lead to will be cancellations and delays, especially in Scotland. However, planes are now allowed to fly in denser concentrations of ash than last year and we also now have better monitoring systems in place to provide an accurate picture of where the ash is. As of Wednesday 25 May the ash cloud has moved over towards Denmark and norther Germany, leading to grounded flights and delays.

It is very useful to have data on where the ash actually falls to the ground and the British Geological Survey (BGS) are coordinating UK wide collection of ash from the Grímsvötn eruption. This is very easy to do and would greatly help our understanding of how ash is transported through the atmosphere. Details on how to do this can be found at the BGS Grímsvötn Ash Collection website and a helpful video can also be found on the volcan01010 blog. If you are collecting the ash please do not worry if you cannot see any on the tape, it is likely to be very small and not necessarily visible to the naked eye. It is not certain how much fallout there will be in the UK, but it will also be useful to know where it has not fallen. BGS have also launched a BGS E-Mail Volcanic Ash Questionnaire and the results are available on BGS Volcanic Ash Map. This shows where there have been reports of ash fall and where there have not. Obviously this needs to be treated with some caution, as it is easy to misidentify volcanic ash.

Useful Links

Eyjafjallajökull Eruption 20th March 2010 to June 2010

Eruption Plume 15/4/2010
MODIS Terra satellite image of the plume heading towards Shetland, taken at 11.35 GMT 15th April 2010. (Image NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response)
The inaurgral TIQS Spring Meeting was held at University of Edinburgh 5th-6th May 2011. This took the form of a workshop on the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions of 2010 and implications for tephrochronology, volcanology, and Quaternary studies.

The relatively modest 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull had an impact far greater than its size would suggest. Magma-ice interactions and the subsequent tephra production and a persistant weather pattern which blew tephra over Europe, resulted in the shutdown of much transatlantic and European air travel.

On 20th March 2010, Eyjafjallajökull burst into life after nearly 190 years of inactivity. Up to that point, very few people outside of Iceland or the volcanological community had heard of Eyjafjallajökull, but this volcano has arguably had a greater global impact than any in Iceland since the huge Laki eruption of 1783, which resulted in short-term climate impacts in the Northern Hemisphere and the deaths of tens of thousands of people. The impacts of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption have been felt globally, with air travel severely disrupted due to worries about the damage that volcanic ash (tephra) can have on jet engines.

Further details on this eruption are available here

Latest Updates

Laacher See Tephra

Details on sites where the Laacher See tephra has been found are now available on Tephrabase. Compiled by Felix Riede, this supplement to Tephrabase allows details and references for all of the 452 sites to be viewed [updated April 2011]. Further data, including geochemistry, will be added shortly. More information about this project is available here or go straight to view the Laacher See sites.

New Icelandic Sites

Data from Lloyd et al. (2009) has been added to Tephrabase. These are from the Bjarkarlundur area near Reykhólar, north-west Iceland. The Saksunarvatn Tephra is found at all of the sites.

Geochemical data from Lawson et al. (2007) has also been added. The site is near Myvatn in norther Iceland. Not all the layers published in the paper are included, as many of the tephra layers are of mixed composition due to reworking in the catchment.

Future Developments

More sites and geochemical data will be added soon to Tephrabase and if you have sites you would like added please get in touch.


In order to help people donate data to Tephrabase, I have created a Word file (form) or PDF file which contain details about the data required. Please download either of the files and either fill in the form or use them to help you include all the information required. Any comments or questions welcome. Please email any data to me, anthony.newton@ed.ac.uk. I intend to create a more flexible system in the future.
hosted by:   School of GeoSciences, The University of Edinburgh
Queries:   Anthony Newton (anthony.newton@ed.ac.uk)
The project was originally funded by a grant from the U.K.'s Natural Environment Research Council