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Eruptive activity of the Santorini Volcano controlled by sea-level rise and fall


Sea-level change is thought to influence the frequencies of volcanic eruptions on glacial to interglacial timescales. However, the underlying physical processes and their importance relative to other influences (for example, magma recharge rates) remain poorly understood. Here we compare an approximately 360-kyr-long record of effusive and explosive eruptions from the flooded caldera volcano at Santorini (Greece) with a high-resolution sea-level record spanning the last four glacial–interglacial cycles. Numerical modelling shows that when the sea level falls by 40 m below the present-day level, the induced tensile stresses in the roof of the magma chamber of Santorini trigger dyke injections. As the sea level continues to fall to −70 or −80 m, the induced tensile stress spreads throughout the roof so that some dykes reach the surface to feed eruptions. Similarly, the volcanic activity gradually disappears after the sea level rises above −40 m. Synchronizing Santorini’s stratigraphy with the sea-level record using tephra layers in marine sediment cores shows that 208 out of 211 eruptions (both effusive and explosive) occurred during periods constrained by sea-level falls (below −40 m) and subsequent rises, suggesting a strong absolute sea-level control on the timing of eruptions on Santorini—a result that probably applies to many other volcanic islands around the world.

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Fig. 1: Stratigraphy and eruption chronology of Santorini from ~360 ka to the present.
Fig. 2: Numerical model of the increase in tensile stress around Santorini’s shallow magma chamber induced by sea-level fall.
Fig. 3: Schematic representation of the effect of sea-level-induced tensile stress spreading on the propagation of dykes at Santorini Volcano.
Fig. 4: Santorini’s eruptive stratigraphy aligned with absolute sea level.

Data availability

The datasets used in this paper are available via Zenodo at


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C.B.R. received funding from NERC in support of the NERC Isotope Facility. D.M.P. acknowledges support from the NERC Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tectonics (COMET). M.B. acknowledges financial support from the Swedish Research Council (grant number 2018-03414) and the Weld On Sweden Research and Development Section.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



C.S. designed the study, co-compiled the eruption counts, co-wrote the paper and co-produced Figs. 2 and 4 and Supplementary Figs. 2 and 3. A.G. led the numerical modelling, co-wrote the paper and produced Fig. 3. R.G. wrote the Methods sections on stratigraphy, produced Fig. 1 and co-complied the eruption counts. C.B.R. undertook the age modelling and produced the KDE plots (Fig. 4 and Supplementary Fig. 3). D.M.P. co-wrote the paper and advised on hazards information. M.B. undertook the numerical modelling and co-produced Fig. 2 and Supplementary Fig. 2. S.W. advised on eruption dates and the tephrostratigraphy of Santorini, and produced Supplementary Fig. 1. A.J.M. conducted an internal review of the paper, contributed to the project design and edited the final submission. M.H. co-produced Fig. 4 and Supplementary Fig. 3, and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Chris Satow.

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Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks Emilie Hooft and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–3 and Tables 1 and 2.

Supplementary Data 1

This .txt file contains the compiled eruption record, which can be uploaded into Oxcal to produce the KDEs included in the paper.

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Satow, C., Gudmundsson, A., Gertisser, R. et al. Eruptive activity of the Santorini Volcano controlled by sea-level rise and fall. Nat. Geosci. 14, 586–592 (2021).

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