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`ATLANTIS BLAST’ WREAKED WORLD HAVOC

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A volcano that inspired the legend of the lost civilization of Atlantis triggered summer frost, crop failure and famine a half a world away, scientists said.

The link enabled NASA scientists to date one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in recorded history.Ancient Chinese annals tell how the climate was disrupted about 3,600 years ago after what scientists now know was the eruption of Santorini volcano, which destroyed much of the Aegean island of Thera, near what became Greece.

The eruption was dated to 1600 B.C., give or take 30 years, by researchers headed by astronomer Kevin Pang of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Pang presented the findings Tuesday during an American Geophysical Union meeting.

"Not only are we able to get a date for this eruption - if people agree on the same century that's pretty good - but we now actually have eyewitness accounts of what happened (to the weather thousands of miles away in China) after the Thera-Santorini eruption," Pang said.

NASA said effects of Santorini's blast were felt around the world, and Thera's destruction is believed to be the source of Plato's story of Atlantis, which tells of an island civilization submerged by the sea after being shaken by earthquakes.

"Recent archaeological studies suggest that `Atlantis' may have been Minoan centers on Crete, destroyed by tidal waves from the Thera-Santorini eruption," Pang said.

U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist Bob Tilling called Pang's study "kind of neat. He has another line of evidence linking climatic effects to that eruption. . . . We need to get a better idea of how often these large eruptions take place and whether there is any pattern to them. That gives us a much better basis to forecast possible future eruptions."

Pang said Santorini's eruption packed the punch of "2 million Hiroshima atomic bombs going off at the same time. Santorini was roughly 100 times more powerful than Krakatau (Indonesia, 1883). Mount St. Helens is a little bitty volcano compared with this."

Pang and NASA called the Thera-Santorini explosion the most powerful volcano eruption in recorded history. Tilling said he was unsure of the latest estimates, but "it is clearly one of the largest."

The volcano spewed sunlight-blocking debris and acid aerosols, chilling Earth's climate to cause disturbances noted in historical accounts of the reign of King Jie, the last king of the Xia dynasty, which is China's earliest recorded dynasty.