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Two Greek Regions Among Top 100 World Geological Heritage Monuments

caldera santorini
Two Greek Regions Among Top 100 World Geological Heritage Monuments. . Credit: Bongo Vongo / CC-BY-SA-2.0 / Wikimedia Commons (Santorini caldera at sundown)

The petrified forest of Lesvos and the volcanic caldera of Santorini are included in the list of the top 100 world geological heritage monuments. This was determined by the competent international committee, as it became known on Thursday, October 6th.

The International Union of Geological Sciences in collaboration with UNESCO took the initiative to create a list of the top areas of geological interest worldwide. More specifically, the International Geological Heritage Committee (IUGS-IGC) undertook the implementation of an international program with the aim of recording and evaluating the identification of the first 100 Geological Heritage Monuments.

It should be noted that, according to the commission, a Geological Heritage Site is defined as an area that contains geological elements or geological processes of international scientific scope. This is used as a point of reference and has made a decisive contribution to the development of the geosciences over time.

Two Greek regions of great geological importance

Two Greek regions have been studied and identified as geologically significant by the international committee due to their contribution to the development of geological sciences. They have thus been included in the list of top world heritage monuments. The petrified forest of Lesvos and the caldera of Santorini are two natural monuments of vital geological importance according to the list.

The first Greek monument on the list is the petrified forest of Lesvos, a preserved natural monument. The nomination file was submitted by the Museum of Natural History of the Lesvos Petrified Forest and was prepared by a scientific team of Professor N. Zouros (University of the Aegean), Professor N. Soulakellis (University of the Aegean), and Drs. H. Valiakos and K. Bendana.

The caldera of Santorini is the second Greek natural monument included on the list. The Municipality of Thira co-decided on the submission of a nomination file in collaboration with a scientific team consisting of Associate Professor P. Nomikou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), Dr. X. Fasoulas (Museum of Natural History, University of Crete), and Professor N. Zouros (University of the Aegean).

The first 100 IUGS Geological Heritage Sites will be honored at a special event organized on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the International Union of Geological Sciences in collaboration with UNESCO and the Global Geoparks Network. It will be a four-day event that will take place in Zumaia, a recognized UNESCO World Geopark, in Spain beginning on October 25, 2022.

The Petrified Forest of Lesvos

The Petrified Forest of Lesvos is a rare petrified forest ecosystem that includes large concentrations of petrified trees and animal fossils covered by volcanic material and fossilized in place seventeen to twenty million years ago.

Petrified forest of Lesvos
Lesvos Petrified Forest. Credit: C messier / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

The petrified forest was formed by successive volcanic eruptions, which covered a large part of the island in lava and ash. Evidence shows that vegetation at the time of formation was subtropical. This differs from present-day Mediterranean vegetation.

There are hundreds of standing and fallen red, yellow, green, and black trunks of conifers and other trees with gigantic intact root systems in the Petrified Forest of Lesvos. The thickest standing petrified tree in the world stands here with a circumference of 13.7 meters as does the tallest such tree in Europe, standing at 7.02 meters. The Petrified Forest of Lesvos, where unique animal fossils can also be found, is not only the second largest of its kind in the world but a magnificent geological monument.

By presidential decree (PD 443/1985), the petrified forest was declared a natural conservation monument.

Moreover, the Petrified Forest of Lesvos is one of four founding members of the European Geoparks Network, established in 2000, and a member of the Global Geoparks Network, established in 2004. The forest is a world geological heritage monument that has been used for decades by schools and universities worldwide for environmental educational purposes, including instruction in earth sciences, geohazards, and climate change.

The caldera of Santorini, a world heritage monument

The caldera of Santorini is a composite structure with a mesmerizing geomorphology, unique volcanic formations, and a valuable geological history. It’s a focal point worldwide not only for tourism but also scientifically, with a number of scientists from Greek and international universities conducting research projects in the area.

Santorini caldera
Santorini Credit: Zde / CC-BY-SA-4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

The volcano that formed Santorini’s caldera was one of the largest eruptions of the Holocene epoch. This was a period that began after the last glacial period some 11,600 years ago. The volcanic eruption led to the decline of the Minoan civilization. In addition, the eruption itself was so great that it impacted the world climate, with the airborne volcanic ash in the stratosphere leading to a period of climatic cooling around the world.

The outer edge of the ancient volcano gave birth to Thira, the main island. Subsequent eruptions during the 16th and 17th centuries were responsible for the creation of the islands Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni. Akrotiri Santorini, the city preserved in ashes, is just one of many fine examples of the 2nd millennium BC—the years between the Middle and late Bronze Age. The precise year of its creation is still a major point of contestation.

The caldera is the physical incarnation of the island’s rich geological history. Santorini was once a much larger island with tall, mountainous land mass and a central volcanic area. It was once twice the size it is today. Thousands of years ago, during the final throws of a major eruption, the implosion of the magma chamber resulted in the sea flooding the caldera, forming one of the largest crater lakes on earth. Thus, this geological history of the island, the results of which we see today, is quite significant and has contributed to worldwide studies of geology and climate change.

The successful inclusion of the Santorini caldera in the 100 most important geological monuments in the world will allow a large number of visitors and the very inhabitants of the island the opportunity to connect with an important natural monument of Greece to appreciate its geological greatness and rich history.


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