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 A decoupled kinematic model for active normal faults: Insights from the 1980, MS = 6.9 Irpinia earthquake, southern Italy

Geological Society of America Bulletin 2013

125, no. 7-8;1239-1259

 doi: 10.1130/B30814.1



Ascione et al 2013 GSABullA significant uncertainty exists in the definition of both surface pattern and subsurface continuity (i.e. coupling vs. decoupling) of active normal faults in the Apennines. In this study, the epicentral area of the MS=6.9, 1980 Irpinia earthquake – one of the most destructive historical earthquakes in Italy – has been investigated based on detailed topography analyses, morpho-stratigraphic and structural data, and new age constraints from Quaternary deposits. The active tectonic behavior of the study area is controlled by a series of sub-parallel, mainly WNW-ESE to NW-SE trending, dominantly extensional faults spanning over the southern Apennines axial belt. A large part of the active fault strands is characterized by a subdued topographic expression, as a result of the young age of extensional faulting initiation, and of relatively low mean slip rates. In addition, as already known from long historical seismicity records elsewhere, long-lasting quiescence might alternate with clusters of closely spaced, strong earthquakes. The long-term morpho-stratigraphic record confirms that long-lasting quiescence may punctuate fault activity, with major implications for seismic hazard assessment. The relatively small-sized cumulative fault throws estimated by surface evidence contrasts with subsurface information provided by crustal-scale cross-sections and seismological evidence, both suggesting the occurrence at depth of large-displacement, mature fault zones capable of nucleating large earthquakes. Furthermore, although the surface distribution of active fault strands overlaps the belt affected by present-day low-magnitude seismicity and by large historical earthquakes, a mismatch in the attitude and kinematics of shallow vs. deep faults is unraveled by a comparison of surface geological vs. seismological datasets. This feature suggests a decoupling between surface and deep fault zones, and that outcropping fault planes cannot always be straightforwardly traced down to hypocentral depths, particularly in fold and thrust belts characterized by strong rheological contrasts. On the other hand, stress inversion from outcropping active faults and from earthquake focal mechanisms point out a general consistency of the stress field, thus suggesting that a homogeneous late Quaternary extensional regime produces complex reactivation of the inherited, articulated fault network affecting different structural levels of the southern Apennines