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Evolution of Santorini Volcano dominated by episodic and rapid fluxes of melt from depth



Santorini Volcano, the site of the catastrophic Minoan eruption in Greece, exhibits two distinct eruptive styles: small, effusive eruptions occur relatively frequently and build shields and domes of lava, whereas large explosive eruptions occur rarely, at intervals of 10,000–30,000 years. Both types of eruption were thought to incubate in a shallow magma chamber that is continually charged by small batches of melt injected into the chamber from below. However, petrological work suggests that at least 15% of the material ejected during the Minoan explosive eruption arrived in the magma chamber less than 100 years before the eruption. Here we use Satellite Radar Interferometry (InSAR) and Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements of surface deformation at Santorini to show that 10–20 million m3 of magma have been intruded beneath the volcano since January 2011. This volume is equivalent to 10–50% of the volumes of recorded dome-forming eruptions. GPS and triangulation data show that this is the only volumetrically significant intrusion to have occurred since 1955, shortly after the last eruption. Our observations imply that whether Santorini is in an explosive or dome-forming phase, its shallow magma chamber is charged episodically by high-flux batches of magma. The durations of these events are short in comparison with the intervening periods of repose and their timing is controlled by the dynamics of deeper magma reservoirs.

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Figure 1: The islands of the Santorini volcanic centre, and the location of the centre of recent volcanic and seismic activity.
Figure 2: InSAR measurements, and fits to them of the best-fitting spherical inflationary source, whose parameters are given in Table 2.
Figure 3: Bounds on the location and volume of the magma body intruded beneath Santorini since January 2011.
Figure 4: Horizontal surface displacements of Santorini between 1955 and 2011 from triangulation and GPS data.


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We are grateful to A. Newman and S. Stiros for sharing data and ideas. The Hellenic Military Geographical Service kindly provided us with their triangulation data for Santorini. We are grateful to E. Fielding for discussions, and to the JPL ROI_PAC team for development of the TSX reader. We thank the Santorini Bellonio library and I. Perros for providing access to historical documents. We thank A. Argirou, C. Kay, R. Neely, E. Warren-Smith and the 2011 Greek Field Class of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, for their assistance in the field. During our fieldwork the Nomikos Foundation and the Boatmen Union of Santorini kindly provided transport. This work was supported by NERC through grant NE/J011436/1, and by a loan of equipment from its Geophysical Equipment Facility. The National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) provided support through a studentship to M.M.P. All TerraSAR-X data are copyrighted by the German Space Agency (DLR), which provided them under scientific proposal GEO1228. All Envisat SAR data are copyrighted by the European Space Agency, which provided them under project AOE621 and through an STSE fellowship to J.B. We thank P. Moore and M. Davis for providing the digital elevation model used in the InSAR processing.

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J.B., P.E., T.A.M., D.P. and D.M.P. designed projects that, as a result of the volcanic unrest on Santorini, came together in this study. InSAR processing and analysis were undertaken by M.M.P. and J.B., and source modelling by P.E., J.B. and M.M.P. The re-occupation of old triangulation sites was coordinated by D.P. and carried out by D.P., C.R., V.Z., P.E., P.N. and M.M.P. Processing and interpretation of Greek triangulation network data were undertaken by D.P., C.R., X.N. and P.E. The GPS sites used in this study were installed by C.R., K.P. and B.P., and K.P. assisted in processing their data. P.E., M.M.P. and D.M.P. wrote the paper; all other authors then commented on and contributed to the final version.

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Correspondence to David M. Pyle.

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Parks, M., Biggs, J., England, P. et al. Evolution of Santorini Volcano dominated by episodic and rapid fluxes of melt from depth. Nature Geosci 5, 749–754 (2012).

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