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International Team to Explore Santorini’s Volcano Secrets

santorini volcano
The Greek island of Santorini will soon be the destination of a team of international scientists who want to know how they can better predict any future eruptions of the volcanoes in the area. Credit: Dimitra Damian/Greek Reporter

A total of thirty scientists from all around the world are heading to Santorini aboard a ship that will probe the depths of the sea and take core samples of the sea bed in an effort to understand more about the cataclysmic volcano eruption that took place there millennia ago.

The island, which was once home to a glorious Minoan civilization along the slopes of a volcano, with palatial homes, statuary, mosaics and paintings, was destroyed by a volcanic event that took place in the year 1650 BC.

The eruption of the island — which was originally called Stronghili, or “round” — decimated all life on the island and erased an entire city-state that was part of the Minoan civilization.

The enormous explosion even blew the original volcano itself to pieces, and only the base of it remains, in the form of a crescent, along withe three small islets, named Palea Kameni, Nea Kameni and Aspronisi, the remains of the debris from the gigantic explosion, in the middle of the caldera.

Santorini volcano destroyed island’s flourishing Minoan civilization

Now, scientists from the US, Europe and Asia will join their Greek colleagues in a major expedition to drill the bottom of the sea around Santorini in an effort to understand just how this volcanic explosion took place and how any future eruptions might happen.

Core drillings in the seabed around the Santorini – Columbus – Christian island archipelago will begin on December 6, 2022.

Second-largest volcanic eruption since humans walked on Earth

The eruption of Thera — the second-largest volcanic eruption to take place in human history — will be explored by the team aboard a special research vessel that will start out from Spain.

Once in place, the research ship “JOIDES Resolution” will be the base for drilling into the seabed at a depth of almost 400 meters (1,312 feet) in the effort to reconstruct the turbulent geological history of the area and piece together just how future eruptions might take place.

They want to finally be able to not only understand what forces regulate the eruptions of the Santorini volcanic complex, but also to be able to predict its future activity and its widespread impacts on this spectacularly beautiful tourist mecca that is visited by millions of people annually.

This scientific mission, estimated to cost approximately €10 million, is part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), which is responsible for approving such expeditions under the strictest possible environmental guidelines.

Real-time scientific research made possible by ship with its own laboratory

Greece’s Cycladic islands will then be the epicenter of international interest in volcanoes and their research and prediction, bringing journalists and others from all over the world to observe their findings.

In addition, students will be able to view the research online as it takes place, giving them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see underwater volcanic geological research in action.

The JOIDES Resolution has its own specialized laboratory aboard, in which scientists will be able to analyze, on a 24/7 basis, the nuclei of sedimentary rocks that will be sampled from the seabottom, allowing them to reach scientific conclusions immediately regarding how the eruptions in the past played out and how they might occur in the future.

The ship will depart from the Spanish port of Tarragona, in early December of 2022, and the scientists will continue their work until February 5, 2023.

Preparations for the enormous international effort have already begun, with the platform for submitting scientists’ statements opening today. Only thirty scientists will be hand-picked for the expedition; they will be among the best in the world in their specialties.

Paraskevi Nomikos, an the associate professor at the Department of Geology and Geoenvironment of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, says “We have a lot of questions and we will try to get answers,” in the scientific quest at Santorini.

World’s scientists competing for chance to study Santorini’s volcanoes

Nomikos, who represents Greece in Mission 398, has thoroughly researched the marine geology of the Santorini region, but she says much remains a mystery at present.

“For example, how do volcanic eruptions relate to faults in the area? What is in the underwater space of the volcanic complex beyond what we know from the land?” she says.

In addition, she says, “We also want to get more information about the dynamics of the great Minoan eruption, the amount and composition of the ash released into the sea, to get dates and to find out how things turned out. And of course, by studying the past, we understand the present and predict future explosions.”

Nomikos explains, “it took four years of rigorous evaluation to announce the approval — with a grade of” excellent “– of the scientific proposal for conducting marine exploratory drilling on the Christian volcanic islets, in the caldera of Santorini, in Nea Kameni and Palai Kameni. The last eruption occurred there in 1950; an earlier underwater volcano eruption occurred on Columbus in 1650.

The Greek expedition was fortunate to be able to take advantage of the specialized research vessel “JOIDES Resolution” since it had also been requested to be used as part of  other surveys in the Adriatic and Mediterranean.

However, fortunately, Santorini was chosen, since the scientific proposal included the intriguing results of specialized studies with rich seismic profiles that exist in that part of the South Aegean. Many scientists from Greece have dedicated their lives to studying the fascinating volcanoes in that area.

The IODP has funded some of the most seminal research anywhere in the world over the past few decades.

Katerina Petronoti, the Manager of Science Operations at the University of Texas A&M-based JOIDES Resolution Science Operator, says “from 1968 until today, the IODP has enabled scientists to study the evolution of the Earth and the current forces acting on the planet.

“It has been instrumental in studying important issues such as climate change, the conditions for earthquakes, ocean currents and chemistry, catastrophic events such as the meteorite impact that caused the extinction of dinosaurs, the creation of mountain ranges such as Himalayas and the evolution of life at the bottom of the oceans.

“Without IODP, we would lack basic knowledge about how the Earth evolved and how we would be able to deal with the serious problems that are occurring now and in the future.”

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