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The Mediterranean and Western Asia Region
Often called 'The Cradle of Western Civilization,' this region is also very much the cradle of volcanology. The vigorous historical record of Etna in Sicily goes back to about 1500 BCE; and the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, with the burial of Pompeii and Herculaneum, continues to serve today as an object lesson in volcanism. The region has given us the first documented 'new mountain' (Monte Nuovo, a pyroclastic cone that formed in the Campi Flegrei caldera in 1538), the first 'new island' at Santorini in 197 BCE, and the word 'volcano' itself (derived from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, and applied to the island of Vulcano).
The volcanism of this broad region, stretching from Spain to the Caucasus, is largely the result of convergence between the Eurasian Plate and the northward-moving African Plate. The geology is diverse and complex, with microplates defying easy tectonic generalizations. However, subduction under the Greek islands (Hellenic arc) and southern Italy (Calabrian arc) explains the region's principal volcanic centers.
The historical and cultural richness of the Mediterranean region has led to the most robust historical record of volcanism of any region. Traditions of record-keeping go back thousands of years and generations of historians and geologists have mined those records. This work is ongoing; the largely traditional historical eruptive record shown here for Etna does not yet fully reflect the application of new techniques such as archeomagnetic dating, which has raised questions about the traditional interpretations of the roughly 3500-year-long historical record of Mount Etna that correlated written eruption reports with specific lava flows based largely on the morphology of the flows. Etna and Stromboli are two of Earth's most active volcanoes, with documented eruptions for several millennia; Stromboli's persistent pyrotechnic activity has lent its name to a type of eruptive activity (Strombolian) characterized by frequent small-scale magmatic explosions. Stromboli has been considered to have been continually active for at least 2500 years, although new work has demonstrated some periods of quiescence during this time, and we have modified our eruption chronologies from that in our 2nd edition to reflect this. Vesuvius towers over the Bay of Naples, and its eruptions have affected those living in its shadow since before the Roman era. Regular documentation of volcanism began with Vesuvius: Lord Hamilton's systematic observations from 1766 through 1794, the world's first volcano observatory in 1845, and Palmieri's seismographic monitoring of the 1872 eruption.
Santorini volcano in the Aegean Sea is renowned for its Minoan era eruption that left its current spectacular caldera, largely flooded by the sea, which draws legions of tourists. In 1879, Fouque's monograph on Santorini explained the fundamentals of caldera collapse 4 years before the Krakatau eruption–on the other side of the globe–gave the world a dramatic example of the process. The mid-18th century work of Guettard and Desmerest on pre-historic volcanoes of central France, and Hutton's work on older volcanics in Scotland, taught the world that contemporary processes explain the volcanic landforms and rocks of the past. And the continuing vigor of both volcanism and volcanology in this important region adds to our understanding of volcanoes every year.
The lengthy historical record of this region also reflects the large numbers of people living in proximity to volcanoes. Nearly 15 million people live within 30 km of a Holocene volcano in this region. Of these, more than 2,200,000 reside within 20 km of the center of the Campi Flegrei caldera, which partly overlaps the city of Naples, and more than 675,000 live within 10 km of Vesuvius volcano. Italian and other volcanologists have devoted considerable efforts to documenting the past eruptive record of these volcanoes and working with public officials to develop hazard plans in the event of future eruptions.
Italian volcanoes display both vigorous explosive activity, even more prominent when the record of caldera formation in the Roman Magmatic Province is extended into the Pleistocene, and a relatively high percentage of Earth's documented Holocene effusive activity, much of which has blanketed the summit and flanks of Etna volcano. The volcanoes of Italy and Greece are prominent in this region, but impressive volcanism lies elsewhere as well. The lava domes and maars of the Chaîne des Puys range in France have produced vigorous Holocene volcanism, and Nemrut Dagi caldera in Turkey has more documented Holocene eruptions than any in this region outside Italy and erupted as recently as the 17th century. Explosive activity has recently been documented accompanying a collapse and lahar from storied Mount Ararat on the Turkey/Georgia border in 1840. At 5633 m, Mount Elbrus in SW Russia near the Georgia border is by far the highest volcano in this region, and lava flows overlying human settlements have recently been documented from volcanic fields along the Armenia/Azerbaijan border.
This region's eruptive record is easily the longest of any. Roughly half of its 47 volcanoes have dated eruptions and more than half of these begin with BCE events. Many of these were dated by radiocarbon or other techniques, but a remarkably large number were documented by humans. By 500 CE–85% of the way through the Holocene–59 eruptions had been historically documented globally, and 54 of them were from region 01. Frequent lava effusion during the 3500 year history of Etna contributes to this region accounting for, along with Kamchatka and Japan, 30% of the world's eruptions with lava flows. The large number of coastal and island volcanoes places this region at the top of the list of tsunami-producing eruptions, and the large numbers of people living in proximity to its volcanoes is reflected in the high number of eruptions causing damage to human infrastructures.
List of Holocene volcanoes in the Mediterranean and Western Asia region.