Scientists probe the most famous volcanic eruption ever to take place in Greece

By Giorgos Lialios - Kathimerini

A 30-meter-high tsunami was set in motion after Santorini's volcano exploded in the 17th century BC, driving high-speed, red-hot gases into the sea. The tsunami hit the shores of Crete about 30 minutes later. However, as catastrophic as the tsunami's consequences may have been, there is no way its force could have been strong enough to be responsible for the destruction of Minoan civilization, according to geology scholars. New facts The most recent data about the tsunami emerged early last month during the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, from a research group led by Gerasimos Papadopoulos, director of research at the Athens Geodynamic Institute. The group had been studying what geophysical mechanism may have caused the tsunami as well as recording the tsunami's characteristics, such as its height, how long it took for its waves to hit various shores in the southern Aegean and its effect on the Minoan civilization. «The tsunami occurred in prehistoric times and that's why there aren't historical documents from which to draw information,» Papadopoulos said. «The conclusions are based on field research and comparisons to similar eruptions in history, such as the large eruption of the Krakatoa volcano on August 27, 1883, in the narrow channel between the islands of Sumatra and Java. The Krakatoa eruption provoked a giant tsunami which swept the shores of Java and killed 36,000 people.» Chronologies indicate that the huge eruption of Santorini's volcano likely occurred during the 17th century BC and, more specifically, around 1630 BC, Papadopoulos says. «This has been the prevailing view for the last 20 years and the initial estimates that the volcano erupted between 1400-1450 BC have been mostly dismissed by the scientific community,» he says. «But the question of the volcanic eruption's chronology is still open. The chronologies used in our research group, which included Japanese scientists from universities in Tokyo and Nagoya, showed that the eruption happened around 1750-1800 BC.» The Geodynamic Institute scientists attempted an electronic reconstruction of the way the tsunami developed so they could study its specific characteristics. «The conviction among volcanologists is that the final and most intense phase of the eruption took place three days after the first eruption of the volcano,» he said. «During this time two main mechanisms could have provoked a tsunami. The first is the large range of the lava flow - in other words the great speed at which the giant mass containing super-hot volcanic ashes and gases descended from the volcano's cone to the sea. Then, the penetration of the flow of lava into the seawater violently pushed a mass of water and provoked the tsunami. The width of the lava flow was estimated at 55 meters and its speed at 170 meters per second.»