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Santorini Volcano History
Santorini Volcano

The most active volcano of the South Aegean Volcanic Arc, at the friction point of the African and the Eurasian tectonic plates, is located in Santorini. The volcano of Santorini belongs to the category of stratovolcanos with a caldera that measures 11 km and is surrounded by 300m cliffs. The past volcanic activity can be read on the multicolored walls of the caldera, each layer revealing a different time period. Today, the volcano is dormant, displaying only fumarolic activity. But it was not always so.

The volcano woke up about 2 million years ago. Before that, only a few rocky islets were standing where Santorini is today. As magma emerged from the sea, the islets were united and formed a single island of circular shape. The fertile soil attracted the first settlers in the mid-5th millennium BC but in the 17th century BC, around 1630, a tremendous eruption destroyed almost 2/3 of the island, which disappeared undersea.

Santorini Volcano:
The Minoan Eruption

The Late Bronze Age eruption (or Minoan eruption, as it is widely known) took place around 1630 BC. It was a colossal explosion of 6 VEI, one of the most powerful in the history of the world. It has been compared to the explosions of Tambora in 1815 and Krakatau in 1883, both of which were tremendously catastrophic. Approximately 40 cm3 of magma were ejected and reached at a height of 36-39 km, whereas the tephra and pumice that covered the island were in some places 50m thick.

The largest part of the island sank and created the caldera. Thera, Therasia and Aspronissi are what remained from the previously circular island, called Strongyli back then. Moreover, a huge tsunami hit the neighboring coasts. The Minoan eruption affected the whole earth, as it brought on climatic changes and possibly famines. Evidence for all this has been found in various areas of the world: pumice in the Nile delta and the coasts of Israel and Cyprus, Chinese recordings referring to the climatic changes China suffered that period, alterations in the tree rings of the Californian pine.

Scientists are still trying to define the year this eruption happened. Some years ago, it was believed that the eruption of the volcano was directly linked to the fall of Minoan Civilization; however, newer evidence dated the eruption about one century earlier than that. If a definite answer is given, then it will be easier to place the whole Mediterranean civilization of that era in the appropriate context.

The Minoan eruption is traced in various myths, like the Argonauts, the Titan wars, the Plagues of Egypt. The most popular of them all, though, is the one identifying Santorini with Atlantis, based in a series of common features between Plato's Atlantis and Strongyli. The main supporters of this idea were Aggelos Galanopoulos and Edward Bacon.

Santorini Preminoan model Ash from Minoan eruption

Santorini Volcano:
Formation of Palea and Nea Kameni

In 197 BC, a new eruption created a small island named Iera and in 46 AD, the island of Thia emerged beside it. The volcano showed no more activity until 726 AD, when the new eruption produced material that united Iera and Thia and formed Palea Kameni. Its biggest part collapsed into the caldera later, as is suggested by the abrupt Schmidt's cut.

From 1570 to 1573, new explosions gave birth to another island, 4 km northeast of Palea Kameni. It was named Mikra Kameni.

In 21 May of 1707, a white island, from pumice and lava, emerged from the sea and kept on getting bigger and bigger. In 5 June, the same happened and another island, of black lava this time, appeared. In 12 September, they united and they formed Nea Kameni.

From 1866 to 1870, a series of successive explosions connected Nea and Mikra Kameni and brought to surface the two islets of May. Those two subsided later but can still be seen, as they are just one meter below water between Palea and Nea Kameni.

Nea Kameni continued its volcanic activity in the course of the 20th century. Flows of lava expanded notably the island (Georgios and Afroessa lavas in 1866, Liatsikas lavas in 1950) and created several domes (Dafni dome in 1925, Nautilus dome in 1928, Fouque, Ktenas, Smith A, Smith B, Reck and Niki domes from 1939-1941). In 1940, two explosions "unplugged" two large craters, 50 meters each.

Formation Palea Nea Kameni Santorini volcano 1950

Santorini Volcano: Columbus Crater

The Columbus submarine crater was activated in 1649-1650. That period, it emerged from the sea but then it submerged again, its highest point 18 meters undersea. The hydrothermal vents can reach high temperatures and emit fluids, gases and metals.

Pseudophoto of Kolumbo submarine volcano

Santorini Volcano: Today

After 1950, the volcano has displayed no activity other than fumarolic. Networks monitoring CO2 flux, temperature of hot springs and gases, sea level and seismic activities are installed in Santorini, recording data and ensuring that a future awakening will be forecasted.

Volcanological map of Palea and Nea Kameni
Santorini volcano