Eruptions at Greek volcano show activity falls as sea levels rise

Global warming may be limiting volcanic eruptions, paper finds

Cruise ships pass by Santorini volcano. Alamy
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Rising sea levels from climate change may lead to reduced numbers of volcanic eruptions, according to research published on Monday.

A study of 360,000 years of activity at the Santorini volcano in Greece suggests that virtually all of the 211 eruptions examined happened when sea levels were at least 40 metres below current levels.

The melting of ice sheets exaggerated by climate change has increased water levels in the oceans and has coincided with reduced eruptions from Santorini, according to the paper published in Nature Geoscience.

Scientists said the volcano in the Aegean Sea, which last erupted in 1950, appears to have gone into a dormant state. The largest known eruption was some 3,500 years ago on Santorini, a group of islands now best-known for its whitewashed buildings and stunning sunsets, making it a major tourism draw.

The paper said the “volcano will shortly enter a period of long-term repose” from the relatively small volcanic events of the island’s recent times, but “large eruptions may remain a present-day threat”.

Researchers from the UK and Sweden have called for further studies.

“Because sea-level change is a worldwide phenomenon and the majority of the earth’s volcanic systems are located in or next to oceans, this effect is of great global concern,” the paper said.

Volcanic eruptions happen when pools of molten rock below the surface of the earth are forced to the surface.

They are caused in part by downward pressure from the land around the magma chambers, but erosion from seawater and other changes appear to have had a limiting effect on land-based volcanoes, the study found.

Updated: August 02, 2021, 3:00 PM