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Home / About Malia / History & Heritage / Development of Crete's Climate
Development of Crete's Climate

Crete has not always had the Mediterranean climate we adore it for today. A possible explanation could be that the circumstances under which Crete obtained its present climate, somehow all find themselves under the hierarchy of its tectonic history.

(5 – 1.5 million years ago)

During the Pliocene period, three to two million years ago, abrupt seasonal temperature fluctuations and droughts ruled the region. Then there is a slow, irregular temperature drop that has the remnants of Pliocene’s tropical flora and fauna fading away, until it stops existing altogether.

(1.5 million – 10,000 years ago)

During the Pleistocene period climatic changes had their effects; the consequences of these changes are visible in the huge screes and the gravel deposits on the hill slopes of the mountains and on the plains surrounding them. There are intervals of cold periods (glacial periods), alternated with temporarily milder periods (interglacial periods).

Crete probably wasn’t affected by glaciations as much, since only on the highest mountains there have been found traces of glaciers. Another limit to the possible severity of the glacial climate is set by frost-sensitive endemic plants, such as the Cretan palm: The glaciations cannot have been so severe as to exterminate them altogether!

The last million years seem to be marked by all the more shorter and intense temperature fluctuations, a more steady rainfall and subsequently more consistent sea level and vegetation.

During the Middle Pleistocene period (700,000-130,000 years ago) alternating glacial and interglacial periods provoked continuous erosion and corrosion: during the milder weather periods there were rainfalls, thus the water running downhill dissolved the various sediments and took them down with it, which affected Crete’s geological picture considerably.

The last glaciations on Crete were probably around 18,000 years ago, during the Upper Pleistocene period (130,000-11,000 years ago). In the plain of Malia, as in the plains elsewhere in Crete, a long period of soil development then begins.

The limestone sediments on the nearby mountain bulks undergo their alteration due to a series of circumstances: wind, water and temperature fluctuations. They break up or dissolve into gravel, pebbles or bigger chunks. The dissolved sediments are transported downhill by the rain, where the heavier parts, like rocks and pebbles that get stuck, are dropped first and the lighter parts, like clay, are taken to the lower plain in dissolved form. Initially they’re dropped into the deeper basin, but eventually layers of various thicknesses are deposited all over the area. Only a few land heaps of about 5 to 15m above sea level (approximately where the ancient settlement lies) were left uncovered by this white Cretaceous limestone. Here, on the previously sandy sea bottom, in a steady environment that was preserved by the climatic stability of the last millennia, a substantial deposit of soils was to be formed of clay ground, the terra rossa.

The soils created during these millennia will result in a natural resource, at least as important as the forests that covered the plains and the hill slopes around it. They shall prove to be an extremely favourable, as good as inexhaustible base for the initial development of a rural economy.

This soil also had a natural resource at its disposal of equally vital importance: water; water for man to drink, but also for cattle and for the cultivation of crops.

(11,000 – 6,100 BC)

Though not wet enough for continuous forests, Crete used to have far more trees than it has today. Some of the differences in vegetation can be explained by the effects of civilization, others though must have been due to a change of climate. The climate then must have been wetter and less seasonal than today; the progression to a Mediterranean climate probably took place gradually around the time of the Bronze Age, only to be completed in about 500 BC.