"Atlantis" Eruption Twice as Big as Previously Believed, Study Suggests

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
August 23, 2006

A volcanic eruption that may have inspired the myth of Atlantis was up to twice as large as previously believed, according to an international team of scientists.

The eruption occurred 3,600 years ago on the Santorini archipelago, whose largest island is Thera. Santorini is located in the Aegean Sea about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of modern-day Greece (map of Greece).

The massive explosion may have destroyed the Minoan civilization based on nearby Crete.

Writing in this week's issue of the journal Eos, a team of Greek and U.S. researchers estimate that the volcano released 14 cubic miles (60 cubic kilometers) of magma—six times more than the infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatau (Krakatoa).

Only one eruption in human history is believed to have been larger: an 1815 explosion of Tambora, in Indonesia, which released 24 cubic miles (100 cubic kilometers) of magma.

(Related story: "'Lost Kingdom' Discovered on Volcanic Island in Indonesia [February 27, 2006].)

The researchers, partially funded by the National Geographic Society, obtained the new data by conducting the first seismic survey of the seabed near Santorini. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Previously, scientists had been forced to guess the size of the eruption based on ash deposits found in Turkey, Crete, Egypt, and the Black Sea.

A Hundred Feet Thick

Using techniques similar to those employed by oil companies to search for offshore deposits, the research team found a ring of volcanic deposits extending all the way around the Santorini archipelago.

The deposits averaged 100 feet (30 meters) thick and extended about 19 miles (30 kilometers) in all directions, says Haraldur Sigurdsson, a volcanologist at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, who led the research.

During the eruption, the material that formed the deposits would have plunged into the sea as pyroclastic flows—hot, fast-moving mixtures of gas, ash, and molten rock. As these hit the water, they would have kicked up massive tsunamis.

Continued on Next Page >>


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