My back hurts because there’s a city on it! Hi I’m Atlas, my family of rocks and I make up the island complex of Santorini. I’ve been here since the last caldera eruption in 1530 BCE. I was just living my life for a while until people started to inhabit our islands. The city of Oia was really heavy on my shoulders and I was getting tired of it. No matter the amount of warning signs I gave to the people to stay off of me by forming steep cliffs and sometimes making a few littles rocks fall by shaking they just kept building. The strain on my shoulders was so bad that I consulted a chiropractor but all he said I could do was to take all the tension off my shoulders so I decided it was time to take a dip in the water.
I heard about this guy on Zakynthos that went for a dip and now I wanted to slide right into the cool water but that would mean that all of Oia would go in with me. My brother Nicolas heard that I was going swimming and he wanted to come with me because he had back pain too from holding up the city of Fira. Then he told our sister Sophia at Red Beach and she wanted to come swimming too. We all wanted to jump into the water but Oia, Fira, and all the tourists on red beach would take a dip with us.
My chiropractor told me that my family and I are made up of layers of unconsolidated material from previous eruptions of the volcanos that make up our islands. If extra stress is added to us like seismic waves triggered by an earthquake or a volcanic eruption we will slide into the ocean including the towns on top of us.
This is a fun little personification of Santorini but to get serious Santorini is in danger of some serious landslides at Oia, Fira, Red Beach and other unstable locations on the island.
A tangible example of the danger of landslides in popular areas, although smaller scale than if Santorini had a mass movement, is an event in September 2018 on the Greek island Zakynthos leaving 7 injured and many in danger as a chunk of cliffside suddenly fell onto the popular beach Navagio. This event shows how dangerous and how possible landslides are, even in the most picturesque of tourist destinations. Santorini is at a higher risk for a landslide event more than islands like Zakynthos because Santorini carries the hazard of volcanic initiated earthquakes as well as tectonically initiated earthquakes.
Santorini is home to about 15,000 locals but it is undoubtedly a tourist destination with cruse ships and others tourists coming in by the thousands daily. In the summer the amount of tourists per day exceeds the 15,000 locals, bringing in upwards of 12,000 to 18,000 tourists. Many of these people, either visitors or locals, reside in Oia and Fira, two of the most dangerous locations on the island.
Fira is located on cliffs at the top of the Caldera rim that is about 300 meters from sea level . The land is so unstable because many of the layers are made up of unconsolidated volcanic rocks called ash and pumice from the different eruptions of the volcanos over the past 650 thousand years.The most recent caldera forming eruption was the Late Bronze Age eruption, previously referred to as the Minoan eruption. A caldera forming eruption is a type of volcanic eruption that is so powerful that it empties it’s magma chamber during an eruption and collapses into the empty magma chamber. This explosion deposited a large layer of white ash all over the island which now makes up the top layer of rock that Fira resides on. This material is very loose and made of fine grains that break apart easily making the risk of landslide high.
Red Beach is another dangerous area that many tourists visit despite all of the signs placed at the beach with warnings on them that landslide is a risk. This beach is very comparable to the Navagio beach slide with high cliffs and many people and boats near them.
Arguably the most dangerous place on the island is Oia, a city that provides a beautiful view and known for watching the sunset but is built hanging on the cliffside. Oia is very close to the Kolumbo Fault line that is still a very active and dangerous fault, located in the northeastern neck of Santorini. It is so dangerous because it is a very deep fault in the earth’s crust capable of causing stronger earthquakes than volcanic related earthquakes.
At all of these locations it is important to be aware of the hazards. We don’t want Atlas and his siblings to be taking a swim anytime soon.