Giant 'balloon of magma' grows under Santorini volcano

Sep 10, 2012

Volcano that destroyed an ancient civilisation has pushed Greek island upwards by 14cm in one year

SCIENTISTS have discovered a giant 'balloon of magma' inflating under the Greek island of Santorini.

The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: around 3,600 years ago the volcano exploded, burying Santorini under tons of pumice.

Today Santorini, the largest island of the archipelago of the same name and what remains of the volcanic caldera, is a popular holiday destination for British tourists, and hasn't seen a proper eruption since 1950.

In 2011 British volcanologists were alerted to a series of small earthquakes, changes in water colour around the centre of the volcano and reports by islanders of strong smelling gases released from the summit, reports the Daily Mail.

The researchers, led by scientists from Oxford University, used satellite radar images and Global Positioning System receivers (GPS) to detect the first signs of volcanic activity beneath the island for 25 years.

The team discovered that the chamber of molten rock beneath the volcano had expanded from 10 to 20 million cubic metres – 15 times the size of London's Olympic Stadium – and pushed the surface of the island upwards by 14cm between January 2011 and April 2012. It is the largest and fastest expansion of the magma chamber under the volcano in recent history.

Dr Juliet Biggs of Bristol University, an author of the paper, said: "People were obviously aware that something was happening to the volcano, but it wasn't until we saw the changes in the GPS, and the uplift on the radar images that we really knew that molten rock was being injected at such a shallow level beneath the volcano."

The findings, published yesterday in Nature Geoscience, will help scientists to understand more about the inner workings of a volcano which 3,600 years ago devastated the island and is thought by historians to have wiped out the Minoan civilisation.  

However, as the rate of earthquake activity has decreased in the past few months, the scientists are confident an eruption on the same scale is not imminent.

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