Santorini: An Island Paradise with a Ground-Shaking Secret

Hi! My name is Emily and I am a student at Northern Arizona University studying the Geology of Santorini, Greece this summer. With approximately 2 million tourists annually, Santorini is one of the top 5 best paradise island destinations in the world. However, due to the movement of the Earth’s crust below the Aegean Sea, the island is at major risk for high magnitude earthquakes with the potential to cause mass destruction throughout the area.
The Earth is made up of fractured pieces of crust constantly in motion colliding and pulling apart from one another; these are called tectonic plates. In the Aegean Sea, two of these plates (the Aegean plate and the African Plate) are colliding into one another forcing the African plate underneath the Aegean plate; this is a process called subduction. This subduction is the cause for the oceanic trench along the coast of Greece, Crete, and Turkey called the Hellenic Trench. The light blue arrows in the figure show the direction, or relative motion, of the colliding plates in relation to one another.
This diagram is a figure showing the subduction process of the Aegean Sea from inside the earth, also known as a cross-section. The speed of the African Plate subducting under the Aegean is approximately 5 millimeters a year, and the speed of the Aegean Plate overriding the African plate is aproximately 31 millimeters a year. Because the Aegean plate is traveling much faster than the African, this allows an increase in pressure within the subduction zone as well as more hazardous crustal fractures, or fault systems, throughout the Aegean.
One of the most hazardous fault systems to Santorini are called Oblique Slip Faults. These faults move laterally (back and forth) as well as above or below each other; this movement allows space to be created and help magma reach the surface. There are two faults on Santorini, the Kolumbo fault and the Kameni fault. The complexity and depth of these types of faults are what makes Santorini such a dangerous area with high earthquake probability. The map is a visual representation showing the Santorini Volcanic Group along the Oblique Slip Fault system: Christiana, Santorini, and Kolumbo (an active underwater volcano). Because the Oblique Slip Fault is moving to the North East, Kolumbo is the most active volcanic center and the northeastern side of Santorini is at the highest risk for a major earthquake.
Red Beach is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Santorini. However, the beach was created due to the erosion of an old volcano and is made of very unstable material that can easily fall up to 60 meters with even the slightest movements. Circled in red are previous visible landslide deposits that have occurred on the beach. When the next large magnitude earthquake hits Santorini, this bucket list destination would be changed forever.
Like many cities in Santorini, Oia (pronounced E-Ah) is at risk for earthquake damage because it is built on top of an unstable slope. When coming into the port above Fira, many landslide deposits were visible on the tall cliffs around the island and pose a risk for any buildings built on unstable material that could come lose during an earthquake.
(For more information on how Landslides affect Santorini, visit Alex Evernden, 2019 and Sarah Warner, 2019)

Though Santorini is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world, its beauty is a mask to a very violent history of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, floods, and many more hazards. With this in mind, it is okay to go to the beach, try some new foods, hike up a new terrain, and immerse yourself in greek island culture. But spending 4,000 euro to stay in a resort on the cliff might not be the smartest idea.

Life is short and the world is wide, I wanna make some memories

Mamma Mia- Here We Go Again

One thought on “Santorini: An Island Paradise with a Ground-Shaking Secret

  1. Emily, this is very informative, thanks for helping people understand what is happening over there. Santorini is a beautiful Island but dangerous. Be safe and keep up the good work!!

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