Jul 25, 2017

Getting to the bottom of the youngest islands' formation

CanonS2 / Wikipedia

At the end of this week, scientists will start looking into the heart of an island called Surtsey, which was created between 1963 and 1967 by a volcanic eruption, to better understand how islands form as part of a $1.4 million project, per Nature. The UNESCO World Heritage site off the coast of Iceland is one of the world's youngest islands.

Why it matters: Based on the results from the study regarding how hydrothermal minerals have strengthened Surtsey's rock, engineers might be able to create stronger concrete that could be used for nuclear-waste containers. Scientists also hope to understand how microbes munch on rock, which will reveal how microbial populations help shape our environment.

Many of the microorganisms on the island are suspected to be indigenous to the island and to have colonized from the seawater, according to Viggó Marteinsson, a microbiologist at the Matís food- and biotechnology-research institute in Reykjavik.

How they'll do it: Scientists will drill a hole parallel to a previous one drilled in 1979, which will allow them to see how the microbial populations change over time. They will lower incubation chambers into the hole and then after a year remove them to make these observations. A third hole, which will be made at an angle to see hot water trickling through cracks in the island, will allow the scientists to understand the structure of the volcano better.

Quick numbers: 60 tons of drilling equipment will be moved to Surtsey this Friday, using a whopping 100 helicopter flights. Only 12 people will be allowed on the island at any given time.

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