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Keywords:

  • Tyrrhenian Sea;
  • seismicity;
  • fault plane solutions;
  • Benioff zone

The study reappraises the deep seismicity of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Careful examination of the quality of reported hypocentres shows that the earthquakes define a zone dipping NW, about 200 km along strike, 50 km thick, and reaching a depth of about 500 km. The zone is slightly concave to the NW at a depth of 300 km, but, contrary to many previous reports, is not tightly concave, nor are there significant spatial gaps in the seismicity, which is effectively continuous with depth. Seismicity is, however, concentrated in the depth interval 250–300 km, where the dip of the seismic zone changes from 70° (above 250 km) to a more gentle dip of 45° at greater depths. Seven fault-plane solutions are available for the largest earthquakes in this depth interval, all of them consistent with a P-axis down the dip of the seismic zone, and all of them requiring movement on faults out of the plane of the subducting slab.

Two deep earthquakes near Naples lie well outside the main zone of activity; for one of which a fault-plane solution is available that has a P-axis not aligned with the dip of the seismic zone. The tightly concave slab-geometry favoured by other reports is supported mainly by the location of these events near Naples, which we think may represent deformation in a separate, probably shallower dipping, piece of subducted lithosphere.

The lack of shallow seismicity, and particularly of thrust faulting earthquakes, at the surface projection of the Benioff zone suggests that active subduction has ceased. Estimates of the convergence rate responsible for subduction in the last 10 Myr far exceed the present convergence rate of Africa and Eurasia, suggesting that the subduction was related instead to the stretching and thinning of the crust in the Tyrrhenian Sea.