Geography > Thera Eruption

Thera Eruption


The Thera eruption, also known as the Santorini or Minoan eruption was a massive volcanic eruption that completely devastated the Minoan culture that lived on the island of Crete in the Bronze Age. It also greatly affected Egypt as well as China.

The Thera eruption was devastating to all of the cultures of the ancient world. It rates between a 6 or 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) and is only surpassed by the Toba Super-Eruption Catastrophe. It saw the complete decimation of the Minoan cities at Knossos, Akrotiri as well as the numerous other agricultural communities and villages that existed in the region.

What is unusual is there is references to the eruption in Greek mythology yet there are no clear ancient records for the event.

Modern Excavations

The Minoan event was one of the largest eruptions on earth in the past 10,000 years. Size estimations have been largely based on field data from Santorini, neighboring islands, from the sea bed, and western Turkey, where the deposit can still be found in lake deposits. The traditional and to-date most widely accepted value of the erupted magma volume of the Minoan eruption ranges between 30-40 km3, corresponding to a total tephra volume of about 80-90 km3, and takes into account various field data obtained and modeling done between around 1970 and 1990 (e.g. Sigurdsson et al, 1990).Recently, new outcrops of the Minoan tephra (e.g. 2 m on Anafi Island, on the sea floor around Santorini and elsewhere) have become available. These findings suggest that the eruption could be larger than originally thought, ranking in fact as VEI 7, which would make it perhaps the second largest explosive eruption in historic time on the planet (after Tambora in 1815).Among other data, during recent research expeditions, Scientists from the University of Rhode Island and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research found deposits of volcanic pumice and ash 10 to 80 meters thick extending out 20 to 30 kilometers in all directions from Santorini.An eruption of this size likely had far-reaching impacts on the environment and civilizations in the region. The Thera eruption would likely have generated a local gigantic tsunami, and pyroclastic flows that traveled extended distances over the surface of the sea. The tsunami on its own could very well be the single largest contributing factor for the outward breach of the Strait of Gibraltar at that time.


Sigurdsson, H., et al. (1990) "Assessment of mass, dynamics and environmental effects of the Minoan eruption of Santorini Volcano", in: Hardy, D. A., et al. "Thera and the Aegean World - Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference", Vol. 3, p. 100-112


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