Shake what Mama Earth Gave You

This week, the class took a 6 hour trip around the archipelago to hike the still active Nea Kameni volcano and observe the caldera rim up close. Also known as “Boat Day”, it was the climax of our 3 week visit to Santorini. I had never been on a small boat before, therefore I had no idea of how to move around the very turbulent vessel, nor whether I’m prone to sea sickness or not. Thankfully I gained my sea legs and enjoyed the excursion like it was an amusement park ride. The way the boat swayed under my feet and the balance I had to struggle to find reminded me of being in an earthquake.

Figure 1: Boat Day!

When Lisa told me about this opportunity to study volcanism in Santorini on the first day of class, I knew I had to go. My mother would have been furious if I passed it up. Being one of the most beautiful islands on the planet didn’t deter me, either!

I’m originally from Japan, famously known for its violent seismic activity. It’s one of the reasons why I decided to study civil engineering at NAU; it literally hits close to home. An enormous quake of magnitude 9.0 hit the east coast of Japan in 2011, and although my family and friends were safe, I still shudder from the thought of the destruction it caused to the place I call home. Most earthquakes are caused by movement of tectonic plates that cause friction between them. When enough strain builds up between the two plates, they slip, sending massive amounts of energy to the surface known as earthquakes.

Volcanoes are directly related to earthquakes because they often form on these tectonic plate boundaries. As magma rises to the surface of the earth, it finds the easiest path with least resistance, and a crack in the earth (plate boundaries) is most convenient. The movement of magma underground causes tremors in the surface.

Santorini lies on the boundary between the African plate and the Eurasian plate. The African plate is being forced underneath, or subducting, as it moves north under the Eurasian plate. These subduction zones happen to cause the largest earthquakes and the most destruction. (Japan lies on one as well).

Figure 2: Sheared stairs at Akrotiri

Because of the vivacious tectonic and volcanic activity, Santorini is no stranger to destructive earthquakes. While visiting the ancient city of Akrotiri last week, I saw one of the most famous staircases in the world. The photo to the right is a staircase located in the center of Akrotiri. The marble steps have been completely broken in half by shearing. This was the cause of violent lateral shaking before the catastrophic eruption, and the Minoans probably took it as a sign to leave the city.

Fast forward 3600 years to January 2011. Santorini experienced a crisis period where small earthquakes struck the islands at an alarming rate and fear of another eruption arose. At the height of the 17 month period, we learned that there were approximately 50 low magnitude (less than 3.5, so not too bad) tremors a day! Luckily, seismic activity ceased in May 2012 and life returned to normal without any eruptions or damage.

There are 2 major faults that cut across the archipelago. The Columbos line, which affects the northern part of the island, and the Kameni line which intersects Nea Kameni and the main cities of Thera, right underneath out feet. The concentration of earthquakes near this fault suggests magma is rising closer to the surface.

Figure 3: Locations of the Columbos & Kameni Lines

Over the course of 3 weeks, I have felt absolutely no quakes. I’m actually a bit disappointed, because I would have loved to experience the energy of this fierce island. From the crisis period to the Minoan eruption to the creation of the islands themselves, seismic and tectonic activity is an inherent presence.

Walking over Nea Kameni was surreal. It is such a small, calm island now, but the thought of it erupting and changing the the surrounding environment forever makes me realize how small we are. No matter how hard we try, we will never make as big of an impact as the earth that convulses under us. Only 3 days remain on this trip, and I might just “lose” my passport because I can’t stand the thought of leaving this stunning island.

Thanks for the love, friends and memories, Santorini. Until next time.

4 thoughts on “Shake what Mama Earth Gave You

  1. Hi Hanako – I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and I think you did a great job of tying in seismic activity of different time periods as well as that of your own upbringing. I admit I wasn’t sure at first how you were going to do it, but it seems like this one came easily to you. Thanks for the memories as well. Hopefully you won’t have an earthquake while your in Japan.

  2. good job Hanako – I especially enjoyed your description of “vivacious tectonic and volcanic activity”

  3. Hello Hanako,

    Informative and concise post this week. I enjoyed reading about how much you enjoyed your time on the island and your post does well connecting a personal narrative to seismic activity. Although earthquakes are a commonplace occurrence, your post does well in connecting yourself to the natural power of what you’ve experienced in earthquakes, while also communicating Santorini’s history with earthquakes. The post grabs readers’ attention with an inviting title and continues to flow well as the reader is provided with Santorini’s history with earthquakes through succinct descriptions and informative visuals.
    As for revisions, be sure to read over your work (there’s an extra word in the second sentence of your last paragraph) and be sure to clarify your ideas in the area that Nicole brought to your attention.

    Happy writing,
    Jose Martinez

  4. Hi Hanako,

    Most importantly, your title made me giggle. A good title grabs the attention of your reader, and your title definitely made me want to read more!

    You did a fine job of being personal and formal in the post. In the beginning, you gave us a brief explanation of your own personal experiences with earthquakes and later went on to explain the natural phenomenon. Reading through the post, it’s clear you understand the concept of earthquakes since the information was clear and easy to understand.

    I only had one problem when I first read the sentence: “It’s one of the reasons why I decided to study civil engineering at NAU; it literally hits close to home.” The sentence makes sense with just the first section, however the second part of the sentence is a bit unclear. It’s a bit confusing as to what the “it” is referring to. I know what you were trying to say by using the phrase, however it perhaps needs some rewording.

    You did a great job using the pictures. I especially appreciated the last picture, which clearly shows readers where the faults are located on the island. All in all, I definitely enjoyed reading this post. Sounds like you had an amazing time in Santorini!

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