There is a growing interest among scientists world over for studying the Iceland Hotspot, its ruptures into and through the crust, and its large-scale dynamics. Answers can be sought to scientific questions where nowhere else on earth can be answered.
But there is another reason for the significance of studying the Iceland Hotspot. Its ruptures into the crust cause large variations in stress conditions in Iceland, sometimes apparently triggering large earthquakes and large eruptions. This variability in stress build-up limits the value of the conventional hazard assessment methods based on 300 years of historical information and 75 years of instrumental information.
Huge eruptions like the Laki eruption in the eastern volcanic zone of Iceland in 1783 would cause huge destruction in Iceland in modern times, different though from its effects in 1783, which lead to a famine. It also caused temporal climatic changes in Europe, leading to reduced harvest and economic as well political instability. We have in fact no knowledge to predict if such an event or similar might happen in our times. The earthquake that occurred the following year in the South Iceland seismic zone was the largest earthquake known in the history of Iceland, estimated magnitude was 7.1. Such an earthquake would cause huge economic losses in modern times, though directly only limited to Iceland.
The economic and social effects of such events as described above would be huge in the modern society and cause instability and great losses. Only the prospects that such events might happen are an economic disadvantage. Understanding of what kind of hazards might happen and when or on what time-scale will lead to economic gains and stability. At least such understanding triggers and helps to design risk preventive measures.
Two large RTD projects in the field of seismic risk mitigation, PRENLAB and PREN-LAB-2 were supported by the EU under the 4th framework programme. These projects utilize Iceland as a huge laboratory for studying crustal processes which can lead to large earthquakes and for studying their effects. The seismic acquisition and evaluation system, the SIL system, which was developed under that project and a previous cooperation project of the Nordic countries, will become the core of the HOTSPOT infrastructure project. HOTSPOT will consolidate the advances of the PRENLAB projects and become a basis for further projects in research towards mitigating seismic and volcanic risks. These two projects and the present infrastructure project are significant steps forward for European research and have much potential to improve European competitiveness in this field in the years to come.
By building up Iceland and its Hotspot as a laboratory for studying crustal/mantle processes in real-time and on a longer time-scale European earth scientists can be in the forefront of innovative scientific evolution. By this continuity Europe is building a natural laboratory which scientists from all over the world will like to use, laboratory which is attractive for worldwide scientific cooperation.
Among the objectives of HOTSPOT is to open the infrastructures for input of new observational facilities and large cooperative efforts in earth sciences. Such a cooperation with USA and Japan, which has been discussed, will further lead to the build-up of the observations and research based on them and will further improve competitiveness and technological and scientific progress in Europe.