A diagram of a Subglacial eruption. (key: 1. Water vapor cloud 2. Crater lake 3. Ice 4. Layers of lava and ash 5. Stratum 6. Pillow lava 7. Magma conduit 8. Magma chamber 9. Dike)
Subglacial eruptions are a type of volcanic eruption characterized by interactions between lava and ice, often under a glacier. The nature of glaciovolcanism dictates that it occurs at areas of high latitude and high altitude. It has been suggested that subglacial volcanoes that are not actively erupting often dump heat into the ice covering them, producing meltwater. This meltwater mix means that subglacial eruptions often generate dangerous jökulhlaups (floods) and lahars.
The study of glaciovolcanism is still a relatively new field. Early accounts described the unusual flat-topped steep-sided volcanoes (called tuyas) in Iceland that were suggested to have formed from eruptions below ice. The first English-language paper on the subject was published in 1947 by William Henry Mathews, describing the Tuya Butte field in northwest British Columbia, Canada. The eruptive process that builds these structures, originally inferred in the paper, begins with volcanic growth below the glacier. At first the eruptions resemble those that occur in the deep sea, forming piles of pillow lava at the base of the volcanic structure. Some of the lava shatters when it comes in contact with the cold ice, forming a glassy breccia called hyaloclastite. After a while the ice finally melts into a lake, and the more explosive eruptions of Surtseyan activity begins, building up flanks made up of mostly hyaloclastite. Eventually the lake boils off from continued volcanism, and the lava flows become more effusive and thicken as the lava cools much more slowly, often forming columnar jointing. Well-preserved tuyas show all of these stages, for example Hjorleifshofdi in Iceland.
Products of volcano-ice interactions stand as various structures, whose shape is dependent on complex eruptive and environmental interactions. Glacial volcanism is a good indicator of past ice distribution, making it an important climatic marker. Since they are imbedded in ice, as ice retracts worldwide there are concerns that tuyas and other structures may destabalize, resulting in mass landslides. Evidence of volcanic-glacial interactions are evident in Iceland and parts of British Columbia, and it's even possible that they play a role in deglaciation.
Glaciovolcanic products have been identified in Iceland, the Canadian province of British Columbia, the U.S. states of Hawaii and Alaska, the Cascade Range of western North America, South America and even on the planet Mars. Volcanoes known to have subglacial activity include:
"Viable microbial communities have been found living in deep (2800 m) geothermal groundwater at 349 K and pressures over 300 bar..Furthermore, microbes have been postulated to exist in basaltic rocks in rinds of altered volcanic glass. All of these conditions could exist in polar regions of Mars today where subglacial volcanism has occurred."
—Jack Farmer, Arizona State University