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Ancient trees may illuminate story of Atlantis

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (September 14, 2000 8:07 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - Researchers say ancient pine tree stumps found in a Swedish peat bog may hold a record of the great volcanic blast that some historians link with the end of the fabled Atlantis.

Using radiocarbon dating, a team of researchers determined that the trees had been alive between 1695 B.C. and 1496 B.C., and a study of their growth rings showed a four-year period of severely depressed growth about 1636 B.C.

Major volcanic eruptions have been known to blast enough dust into the atmosphere to cause frosts and limit crop growth, and one of the most powerful such blasts occurred when the Greek island of Santorini blew up in the mid-1600s B.C.

That disaster destroyed a culturally developed island and some historians believe it gave rise to the legend of the lost continent Atlantis.

"Our dating and the severe magnitude of this phenomenon suggest that it can be ascribed to the 1628-27 B.C. event, hence providing new evidence of a wider, more northerly area of influence," the team of Swedish scientists reports in the Sept. 15 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

While the team led by Hakan Grudd of the Climate Impacts Research Center in Kiruna, Sweden, dated the Santorini blast to 1628, other scholars use different dates, though all are within a few years.

The Swedish team said their tree ring dating had a margin of error of plus or minus 65 years.

Other scientists studying tree rings have found periods of frost damage and slow growth in the mid-1600s B.C. affecting Irish, English, and German oaks, pine trees in California and trees in Turkey.

This is the northernmost evidence of an effect from the volcanic blast, the researchers said of the new Swedish find.

"The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis of a major Northern Hemisphere volcanic eruption in 1628 B.C., which may have been Santorini in the Aegean Sea," they concluded.

The climate impact of volcanoes has long been a topic of discussion, going back at least to Benjamin Franklin. The eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora was blamed for a worldwide cooling in 1816 - known as the "year without a summer" in New England, where snow fell in June.

Today Santorini is a popular tourist spot, where visitors can see the great caldera formed when the ancient volcanic island blew up and view excavations uncovering the remains of the ancient town.

The first mention of Atlantis occurs in Plato, who discusses an ancient island or continent destroyed by earthquakes and sunk into the sea.

Geophysical Research Letters is published by the American Geophysical Union, an international scientific society.

 

Copyright 2010 Tim Stouse
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