A History of Destruction – What Future Awaits?

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.

Figure 1: Nea Kameni 1924 – 1925 volcanic crater


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.

Figure 2: A building preserved at the excavation site of Ancient Akrotiri
Figure 3: The pots preserved from the ash and pumice fall in what is said to be a storage room.

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!


4 thoughts on “A History of Destruction – What Future Awaits?

  1. Brittany,

    It’s surprising how so many tourists and locals are unaware of the dangers that Santorini secretly holds. You mentioned the “Crisis Period” but never explained why it was a crisis period. I was interested to know what changed in the volcano to classify it as such and why people didn’t leave the island even though it was such a dangerous time. Did tourists know? Did locals even know? As a tourists reading your blog post I would have been interested to learn more.

    1. Hello Sheridan! Thanks for the feedback. I actually meant to reference another blog in my post regarding the crisis period if anyone was interested in learning more about it, but it seems I forgot to include it in my blog. I’ll be sure to fix that asap! Thanks again!

  2. Your narrative approach made your blog quite engaging. Using graphics (great job labeling and referencing in text) increased engagement, and headings throughout kept your reader on track making your blog easy to navigate. As with the previous comment, I agree that further discussion of the Crisis Period would be helpful to your reader. Though the content of your blog is frightening, you do a nice job (in the end) of ending on a positive note.

  3. Hi Brittany – I really enjoyed your narrative and willingness to open up and discuss your reasons for coming here and your experiences.

    Some factual things to correct: The eruption occurred ~3,600 years ago…not 4,000. Please correct that in multiple locations where it is mentioned.

    When talking about magmatic-driven explosions what we mean is gases rapidly expanding in the magma causing it to fragment. That is different than eruptions caused by the build of of steam or other volcanic gases in the rocks that make up the volcano (Vulcanian) which can erupt with little to no warning.

    The near term most destructive event can’t be labeled exactly as happening in the next 100 years. Please correct that. It should be hundreds of years…we really don’t have any way of knowing when an eruption will occur until the volcano begins to become active again. And even then, we speak in probabilities.

    The language of “I bet your thinking”, and asking readers questions in your text should be avoided, because you shouldn’t assume what the reader is thinking and also the reader can’t answer your questions.

    Overall I think this was very well written – its just some facts that need to be changed!

    Have a safe an uneventful trip home – Lisa

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