I came to this island knowing little of what to expect. I traveled halfway across the world, across the Atlantic Ocean, to a country I’ve never been to before. It’s my first time leaving the U.S. and traveling to a country different from my own. In the beginning, I applied to the program on a whim and I was ecstatic that I was accepted into it. Looking back, I don’t know what to think. What brought me here? I’m no geology major, nor am I an anthropology major. As a matter of fact, I have no major, but I wanted to push myself out of that slump and do something worthwhile with my time. I needed a challenge; something that would force me out of my comfort zone and thrust me into something new. That’s exactly what I got.
I came into this experience with a basic understanding of geology and little to no knowledge of volcanology. However, with 3 weeks in and 2 days left, I’m leaving with an understanding of and an appreciation for the geologic history of the island. Within my time spent here, not only did I become knowledgeable of Santorini’s volcanic history, but I also became well-informed of the hazards that pose a threat to the people on the island. How could I not after having taken a whole class on it?
Throughout it’s history, Santorini underwent several significant caldera eruptions to form the island it is today. Three thousand six hundred years ago, the city of Akrotiri, one of the most technologically advanced cities at the time, was buried beneath one of the islands most destructive volcanic eruptions to date, and yet, civilization continued to rebuild itself over the ashes of the ancient city. Evidence suggests that the Minoans evacuated at the time, but they they had plans for returning. The Crisis Period that occurred from 2011-2012 had significant volcanic activity on the island as well. To get an idea of how bad it was, there was a total of fifty 3.5 magnitude earthquakes occurring daily. However, even that wasn’t enough to get people to leave the island. (Check out the blog “A Beautiful Place with a Frightening Reality for more info”). It goes to show that despite how relentless the volcanic activity can be, people still choose to stay. I was surprised to learn that many tourists here aren’t well-aware of the geologic hazards that the island poses. I’ve been here for 3 weeks, and yet I’ve come to learn that I know more about the hazards of this island than the majority of the locals here do. I’ve also encountered many tourists who say they come here for the view, but know nothing about the geologic history of Santorini. Many refrain from reading up on the geologic hazards of the island and have little to no knowledge of the active volcano on the island. As a result, many tourists are uninformed about the dangers that Nea Kameni pose.
Most Probable Event – Vulcanian Eruption
That leaves us with the question, “When will Nea Kameni erupt?” Nea Kameni has been active since it’s last eruption, however, the most probable explosion we would witness in our lifetime would be similar to the 1924 and 1925 Vulcanian eruption. This type of eruption is not magmatic-driven, meaning that the gases don’t rapidly expand in the magma causing it to fragment. Rather, it’s due to volcanic gases being trapped and having no where else to go. If the pressure build up becomes high enough, the volcano could erupt, blowing up anything that’s on it’s surface. The scariest part – it comes with little or no warning, almost like a bomb going off. You definitely wouldn’t want to be hiking up New Kameni when this type of explosion occurs. Figure 1 below shows the crater left behind by the 1924 and 1925 eruption.
Middle Expected Event – Subplinian Eruption
Hundreds of years from now, it’s also possible that a Sub-plinian Eruption could occur at Nea Kameni. This type of eruption is the most destructive because it’s highly explosive and rich in gas content. Hypothetically speaking, if Nea Kameni were to experience this type of eruption now, the island would be covered in pyroclastic material along with layers of volcanic projectiles and ash thrown from the volcano. It’s frightening to imagine how quickly an eruption like this one could cause significant destruction to Santorini in but of a matter of a few minutes. However, this is only a probability.
Maximum Expected Event – Minoan Eruption
There’s one last probable event that could occur at Nea Kameni, and this eruption type is the maximum potential eruption that could occur on the island.
I mentioned earlier that 3,600 years ago, there was an eruption that buried the entire city of Ancient Akrotiri in volcanic deposits. From what archeologists managed to dig up, they found that the city was very similar in construction to modern day Santorini, but it was both destroyed and preserved by the thick deposits of ash and pumice that concealed it. A few days ago, I witnessed the ancient city for myself. Throughout our lessons, we talked about how destructive the volcano actually was. When the time came for me to witness the damage for myself, I could only imagine that the city must have looked a lot like modern day Santorini prior to it’s destruction. The damage was catastrophic: some of the buildings were 2 or 3 stories high (as shown in figure 2). A storage area with pots filled with pumice and ash remained intact (shown in figure 3). Narrow alleyways cut between buildings, similar to the walkways in Santorini’s cities today.
If a Minoan type eruption were to occur today, the Santorini of today would be no more. Although there’s only a 1 in 20,000 probability of this occurring, I’m saddened by the thought that some day, Santorini may be buried beneath layers of pumice and ash, just like Ancient Akrotiri was. Keep in mind that these events are only probabilities, and we have no way of knowing whether they will occur or not in the future.
A Journey’s End
It’s funny how just 3 weeks ago, the only thing I knew about this island was that this is where the movie “Mama Mia” was filmed. Sitting here now, it’s strange, almost inconceivable, to think that that tiny bit of insignificant information opened up a pathway to a world of knowledge – a history book within itself – the island of Santorini. This island now has a special place in my heart, not only because of its unusual landscape and cities, but also because I’ve witnessed the volcanic processes that formed the island for myself. I’ve learned so much here and made many pleasant memories in the process. I think I can understand why people choose to return to Santorini, even when they’re well-informed about the islands’ hazards. To previously uninformed tourists, I hope you are now informed and take care to research the places you plan on traveling to before traveling to them!