A model is explored for the rifting process particularly at the divergent plate boundary in Iceland, based on direct observations of the Krafla rifting episode 1975–1984. Magma accumulates near the axial crust-mantle transition as the plates diverge from each other and compression on the boundary decreases. Two-dimensional finite-element modelling is applied to investigate how divergence and buoyant rise of magma interact in triggering rifting. Both processes are found to be important, but long intervals between rifting episodes require the time-average deviatoric stress to be compressible normal to the axis.

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