Rising sea levels could reduce risk of volcanic eruptions, say researchers

Scientists have studied sea level changes and the timings of eruptions on the Greek island of Santorini over hundreds of thousands of years.

Rising sea levels caused by global warming could reduce the risk of eruptions on volcanic islands and coastal areas, according to research.

Researchers from the universities of Portsmouth and Oxford Brookes, examined the timings of eruptions over hundreds of thousands of years on the Greek island of Santorini in relation to sea level changes.

They found that a 130ft fall in sea level was a “critical point” beyond which eruptions were more likely to occur.

The findings of the study, published in Nature Geoscience, have important implications for millions of people living on volcanic islands as climate change affects sea levels globally, they said.

Dr Mark Hardiman, of the University of Portsmouth, said: “With continuing global warming, we need to urgently understand the relationships between the effects of climate change and the risk of natural hazard events.

“One such hazard is volcanic eruptions on small islands and in coastal areas that are already strongly impacted by the consequences of rising sea level and increasing storm activity.”

Dr Christopher Satow, of Oxford Brookes University, said they examined layers of volcanic rock on the cliff face encircling the inner part of Santorini to gauge volcanic activity over the centuries.

Explaining the relationship between sea levels and eruptions, Dr Satow said: “The mechanism is quite simple: falling sea levels remove mass from the Earth’s crust and the crust fractures as a result. These fractures allow magma to rise and feed eruptions at the surface.”

Co-author Dr Sabine Wulf, of the University of Portsmouth, said: “If our findings could be confirmed by studies on other volcanic locations around the world, continuing sea level rise would lower the risk of future volcanic eruptions at islands and coastal areas.

“This indeed would be good news not only for the population of Santorini, but also for other volcanic high-risk areas in the Mediterranean such as the densely populated Naples area in southern Italy.”

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