News Archive

posted 12/23/03

Contact: Mary Tobin
845-365-8607 or mtobin@ldeo.columbia.edu

Reports From the Field

CAT/SCAN: Calabria-Apennine-Tyrrhenian / Subduction-Collision-Accretion Network
A Joint American-Italian Project to Monitor Earthquakes on the Most Active Seismic Belt in Italy

map of collision and subduction zones in italy

Figure 1: The area known as the Calabrian Arc is the last remaining segment where oceanic subduction occurs along the African-Eurasian plate boundary, which extends down the Italian Peninsula through Calabria, and across Sicily toward Tunisia

This joint project involves researchers from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO): Michael Steckler, Leonardo Seeber, Arthur Lerner-Lam, and Maya Tolstoy; and researchers from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV): Alessandro Amato, Gianni B. Cimini, Claudio Chiarabba, Marco Cattaneo, and President Enzo Boschi; and researchers from the Universita di Cosenza, including Professor Ignazio Guerra. Support provided by the Continental Dynamics Program of the US National Science Foundation. Additional support provided by the NSF EAR Instrumentation and Facilities program through IRIS, and the OCE MG&G program through the OBS deployments and support of the OBSIP facility.

Additional collaborators include: Protezione Civile (government agency and local volunteer networks); Comuni (Town governments); Grottaminarda; Sant'Andrea di Conza; Montella (Avellino); Venosa (Foggia); San Giovanni a Piro; Craco (Matera).

Setting: Calabria, the toe of Italy on the Italian Peninsula, is part of the most active seismic belt in Italy and has a high earthquake hazard. The Messina earthquake of 1908 killed over 100,000 people.

The area known as the Calabrian Arc is the last remaining segment where oceanic subduction occurs along the African-Eurasian plate boundary, which extends down the Italian Peninsula through Calabria, and across Sicily toward Tunisia (Figure 1).

map showing locations of 10 digital broad-band ocean-bottom seismometers

Figure 3. Researchers are working to deploy 50 portable digital broadband seismographs throughout southern Italy (locations shown above in red). These instruments will record both global and regional earthquakes for 18 months. They are also working to deploy an additional 10 digital broad-band ocean-bottom seismometers (OBS) offshore for a period of 12 months (shown above in blue).

The old oceanic crust of the Ionian Sea has been subducting, or plunging, beneath Calabria to depths of over 400 km. The volcanoes of the Eolian Islands mark where this downgoing plate begins to melt. To the north, along the Apennines, and to the west, in Sicily, all of the ocean crust has been subducted, and mountain chains now mark the collision of continental landmasses.

The subduction zone that became the Apennine-Calabrian-Sicilian belt has advanced southeastward across the Western Mediterranean region over the last 25 million years. (click for map showing the history of this advancement). In its wake, extension and sea floor spreading has created the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The rapid southeast advance of the Calabrian Arc, with subduction ahead and extension behind, is believed to be driven by rollback -- the retreat of the subduction zone due to the sinking of the old Mesozoic seafloor of the Ionian Sea.

Today, as most of the arc collides with the Adriatic/Apulian continent along the Apennines, and with a piece of Africa pasted onto Sicily, oceanic subduction continues only at Calabria. Or does it? Some consider the Calabrian subduction to have now been stopped by the collision of the continental landmasses. Others argue that subduction and the advance of the remaining arc continues, with the plate tearing along its margins and Mount Etna lying along one of the proposed tears. Yet another possibility is that Calabria is splitting lengthwise and only part of the peninsula continues to advance to the southeast. Understanding the present-day tectonics of Calabria is important to understanding the earthquake risk in southern Italy.

CAT/SCAN Objectives are to use signals from distant earthquakes to develop a catscan, or a three dimensional image, of the Earth's crust and mantle beneath the Italian Peninsula of the earth. Specifically, we will:

-- Map the seismic structure of the Calabrian arc, from Calabria to the southern Apennines.
-- Determine the structure of the entire subduction/collision system, from the subducting plate across the trench to the volcanic arc, the subducting slab and the backarc spreading system.
-- Along strike, map the structure of the transition from oceanic subduction in Calabria to continental collision in the southern Apennines.

Researchers are working to deploy 50 portable digital broadband seismographs throughout southern Italy (see Figure 3, red triangles). These instruments will record both global and regional earthquakes for 18 months. Researchers are also working to deploy an additional 10 digital broad-band ocean-bottom seismometers (OBS) offshore for a period of 12 months (Figure 3, blue triangles).

seismometers

EQUIPMENT: The seismometers (above) were shipped to Italy from the PASSCAL (Program for the Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere) instrument center in Socorro, New Mexico in November. The approximately 80 boxes of equipment weighed over 5000 lbs (2300kg). Deployment of the instruments started in December, and will continue through the holidays into January, when multiple teams will help complete the deployment. The deployment will take a total of about 6 weeks.

The instruments are on loan from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL), and the Ocean Bottom Seismograph Instrument Pool (OBSIP), both supported by NSF. Columbia University is a member of both IRIS and OBSIP.

Some outcomes of this project will be:

-- The tomographic images provided by analysis of the earthquake waves recorded on the seismometers, similar to X-ray catscans, will indicate temperature and compositional variations beneath the surface related to the subduction, the continental collision, and extension in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
-- Measurements of anisotropy (shear-wave splitting) will provide information on the flow of mantle rocks at depth. Other techniques, such as receiver function analysis, will be used to constrain the thickness of the crust and other layers. These and other advanced studies of the earthquake waves passing through the earth to the seismometers will provide much needed information on the structure and properties of this region.

In addition, this temporary network will augment the existing seismic networks in Italy run by the INGV and others for the study of local and regional earthquakes and the assessment of earthquake hazards. In 2001, the National Earthquake Center – Centro Nazionale Terremoti (CNT) of INGV -- started a thorough upgrade of the entire Italian national seismic network. The temporary deployment of our dense array of stations is a perfect complement to the permanent network upgrade, which is a slower process. In fact, the current temporary home of the new Center for Seismology and Seismic Engineering in Southern Italy (CESIS) in Grottaminarda (Irpinia) is being used as the base for the deployment of the instruments. The Grottaminarda Center will also be used as the operational, technical and scientific base for instrument management, data recovery and processing. The final geometry of the network will consider the existing and planned permanent stations in the area. For example, establishing a station at a planned permanent broadband station will provide site preparation that is needed for the permanent installation.

Field Program: The deployment (see Figure 3, above) comprises: (1) A linear array across the active Calabrian Arc. The proposed line extends southwest from Apulia across the Gulf of Taranto (using Lamont Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBSs)), across Calabria, into the Tyrrhenian Sea with OBSs, ending with stations on the Eolian Islands. The line is chosen to take advantage of land sites at either end of the profile; (2) A more broadly spaced pair of transects of OBSs extending to the volcanic center of the juvenile Tyrrhenian Sea oceanic crust; (3) A dense 2-D array across the transition between the seismically active Calabrian Arc and the Southern Apennines to capture the differences between the two crustal blocks and image the zone of possible mantle flow around the Arc; and (4) a second, more broadly-spaced, transect of the Southern Apennines formed by the OBS and station sites farther east in the foreland of Apulia.