Friday, February 29, 2008

How Thera Changed the World

The next installment of the Livescience series on events that changed the world examines the impact of the Theran volcanic explosion. Thera was a volcano on the eastern Mediterranean island of Santorini which exploded around 1600 BC. The explosion was most likely the most devastating volcanic eruption in human history, dwarfing the 1883 explosion of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa by four or five times, the equivalent of over 100 atomic bombs being released in a single second. The Krakatoa explosion had quite extensive global environmental climate impacts, which the Thera explosion would have likely far exceeded.

"That fiery explosion (Krakatoa) killed upwards of 40,000 people in just a few hours, produced colossal tsunamis 40 feet tall, spewed volcanic ash across Asia, and caused a drop in global temperatures and created strangely colored sunsets for three years. The blast was heard 3,000 miles away."

As a result of the Thera explosion, the dominant Mediterranean Minoan culture, based on the island of Crete, spun rapidly into decline. The resulting tsunami from the explosion would likely have devastated its naval and trading fleets and coastal settlements, then the dust generated by the volcano would have caused a drastic climatic change toward much cooler temperatures. More aggressive cultures entering the area such as the Doric Greek civilization would finish the Minoan fall. The eruption is also linked to the mythical legend of Atlantis and the Biblical flood stories, and the environmental effects were likley felt as far away as China and the Western hemisphere.

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