Fire & Ice

Volcanoes and frozen lands make an explosive combo

By Alexandra Witze, 10:29 AM September 9, 2010

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SVEIFLUHÁLS, Iceland — High atop an Icelandic mountain one magnificent summer day, with blankets of soft moss underfoot and a translucent lake shimmering in the valley below, geologist Emily Constantine Mercurio is conjuring up an image of hell.

Tens of thousands of years ago, says Mercurio, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, this place was the heart of a roiling volcanic eruption. Molten rock bubbled up from a fissure in the Earth’s crust. On top of th...

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