Gro Birkefeldt Møller Pedersen

Geologist and Researcher



Volcanic landforms and volcanic landscapes are aesthetically and geologically fascinating. They result from some of the most powerful constructive and destructive processes on Earth and on other terrestrial planets. Precious records on eruptive activity and potential volcanic hazards, as well as valuable information on inaccessible endogenic processes of terrestrial planets can be revealed through studies of these constructs.

My research interests are focused on understanding volcanic landforms and landscape development, based on satellite and airborne remote sensing (RS) data that allows exploration of volcanoes in remote, underfunded or inaccessible environments. This includes investigation of a variety of volcanic landforms, as well as development of new mapping techniques, in order to obtain new geospatial information on volcanic landforms by more effective and systematic exploitation of RS data. This research has focused on volcanic regions on Mars and Earth and is briefly introduced below:

Environmental Mapping and Monitoring of Iceland by Remote Sensing (EMMIRS)

Areas within the selected supersites: Hekla and Öræfajökull. The Hekla area is dominated by volcanic processes such as lava flows, tephra and volcanic vent formation (see top image). Öræfajökull is a volcano dominated by the glacial processes including ice falls, and is also proned for landslide formation (see bottom image)


Iceland is exposed to rapid and dynamic landscape changes caused by natural processes and man-made activities, which impact and challenge the socio-economic situation of the country. The wealth of the RS data provides an opportunity for detailed analysis and information extraction. However, currently there is lack of operational advanced information processing techniques, which are needed for end-users to incorporate data from multiple data sources, but the data can be on the scale of terabytes. Hence, the full potential of the recent RS data explosion is not being fully exploited.

In the EMMIRS project will bring Iceland into the international forefront by bridging this gap between advanced information processing capabilities and the end-user mapping of the Icelandic environment. This is done by a multidisciplinary assessment of two selected remote sensing super sites, Hekla and Öræfajökull, which encompass many of the rapid natural and man-made landscape changes Iceland is exposed to. The integration of contributions from the Signal Processing Lab., the Institute of Earth Sciences, and Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Iceland along with excellent partners and collaborators from international and domestic institutions provides a strong platform to develop and implement state-of the art mapping and monitoring techniques that are fine-tuned to Icelandic geology and terrestrial ecology.


The goals of EMMIRS are to:
  • Build an open-access benchmark repository of the two remote sensing supersites; Hekla and Öræfajökull. Having a benchmark repository in Iceland is necessary for EMMIRS to test the proficiency of the developed mapping techniques. Furthermore, it ensures that new analysis techniques that are being developed internationally in the coming years will be tested with respect to Icelandic conditions.
  • Develop and implement methods for automation of geological and ecological mapping tuned to Icelandic nature.
  • Develop and implement methods for automated change detection allowing monitoring of geological and ecological changes in Iceland.
  • Investigate the complex landscape dynamics between geological and ecological processes. This is done through cross-correlation of mapping results and implementation of cutting-edge modelling techniques that simulate geological and ecological processes in order to extrapolate the landscape evolution.

Dynamics and evolution of a flood basalt lava field: Evidence from Holuhraun, Iceland

Five examples of different lava lobe emplacement observed at Holuhraun during the Bardabunga eruption. The different emplacement mechanisms produce different lava morphologies that can be linked to different lava advancement speed either through open or closed lava pathways.


The Bardabunga eruption (Aug 2014-Feb 2015) is the largest effusive eruption in Iceland since the Laki eruption in 1783–84 A.D., and it produced the Holuhraun lava field with an estimated lava volume of ~1.6 km3 covering an area of ~85 km2. This eruption provides an unprecedented opportunity to understand the dynamics and evolution of flood basalt lava fields including linking the morphology and lava emplacement mechanisms. Hence, in this study we report on the lava morphologies and emplacement styles—observed in the field and from remote sensing platforms— to help inform the study of analogous large channelized ‘a‘ā and transitional flows on Earth and on other planetary bodies. This includes analysis of

  • Time-lapse videos of lava emplacement and lava morphology transitions
  • Georeferenced GoPro footage documenting the change of lava edge morphologies
  • Temporal mapping of the lava field by aerial and satellite radar images (SAR)


Bridging fieldwork and remote sensing

Geomorphological analysis of Icelandic volcanoes for development of new mapping tools to analyze and monitor volcanic landforms

Grindavík area seen from the field and from airplane. Correlating obsertvations in the field and from remote sensing data is important to exploit the wealth of information that can be obtained from remote sensing data in a automated way.


The aim of this project is to bridge the gap between field data and RS data by correlation of diagnostic characteristics of volcanic landforms in the field and on RS data. Iceland is an ideal location for pursuing this goal, since a variety of volcanic landforms erupted under aerial and subglacial conditions are easily accessible. The project includes:

  • Usage of digital elevation models to identify topographic fingerprints of eruption environments
  • Incorporation of topographic fingerprints in geomorphometric land element analysis in order to carry out automated classification by object based image analysis
  • Correlation between field observations and RS data in order to find diagnostic characteristics of different volcanic landforms on RS data at different temporal and spatial resolution.

Geomorphological study of the Galaxias region

Elysium volcanic province, Mars

Topographic map of the Elysium volcanic province and the Utopia Basin, which is one of three basins in the northern lowlands. The Galaxias region is located on the north western flank of this transition zone and has been influenced by both volcanic activity, ice‐rich deposits and volcano‐ice interactions.


Documenting and understanding Mars’ water budget is a non trivial task that has gained major attention due to its implication for habitability for life. The Elysium volcanic province is situated entirely within the enigmatic northern lowlands, which through series of studies have been suggested to host significant amount of water. This project was therefore initiated to investigate potential landforms resulting from the interaction between ice/water-volcano interactions in order to document previous existance of water in the region and its implication for geologic developement in a volcanic region. This included:

  • Geomorphological map of the Galaxias region, Elysium volcanic province, Mars
  • Impact of frozen lahar deposits for complex ice-volcano interactions
  • Developement of guidelines for recognition of degraded ice-rich materials
  • New formation model chaos landforms based on evidence from Galaxias Chaos
  • Analysis of volcanic intrusions and potential subglacial eruptions in Elysium volcanic province

Video of lecture at my PhD defense: