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Strain and stress fields in the Southern Apennines (Italy) constrained by geodetic, seismological and borehole data

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SUMMARY

We present an improved evaluation of the current strain and stress fields in the Southern Apennines (Italy) obtained through a careful analysis of geodetic, seismological and borehole data. In particular, our analysis provides an updated comparison between the accrued strain recorded by geodetic data, and the strain released by seismic activity in a region hit by destructive historical earthquakes. To this end, we have used nine years of GPS observations (2001–2010) from a dense network of permanent stations, a data set of 73 well-constrained stress indicators (borehole breakouts and focal mechanisms of moderate-to-large earthquakes) and published estimations of the geological strain accommodated by active faults in the region. Although geodetic data are generally consistent with seismic and geological information, previously unknown features of the current deformation in southern Italy emerge from this analysis. The newly obtained GPS velocity field supports the well-established notion of a dominant NE–SW-oriented extension concentrated in a ∼50-km-wide belt along the topographic relief of the Apennines, as outlined by the distribution of seismogenic normal faults. Geodetic deformation is, however, non-uniform along the belt, with two patches of higher strain-rate and shear-stress accumulation in the north (Matese Mountains) and in the south (Irpinia area). Low geodetic strain-rates are found in the Bradano basin and Apulia plateau to the east. Along the Ionian Sea margin of southern Italy, in southern Apulia and eastern Basilicata and Calabria, geodetic velocities indicate NW–SE extension that is consistent with active shallow-crustal gravitational motion documented by geological studies. In the west, along the Tyrrhenian margin of the Campania region, the tectonic geodetic field is disturbed by volcanic processes. Comparison between the magnitude of the geodetic and the seismic strain rates (computed using a long historical seismicity catalogue) allow detecting areas of high correlation, particularly along the axis of the mountain chain, indicating that most of the geodetic strain is released by earthquakes. This relation does not hold for the instrumental seismic catalogue, as a consequence of the limited time span covered by instrumental data. In other areas (e.g. Murge plateau in central Apulia), where seismicity is very low or absent, the yet appreciable geodetic deformation might be accommodated in aseismic mode. Overall, the excellent match between the stress and the strain-rate directions in much of the Apennines indicates that both earthquakes and ground deformation patterns are driven by the same crustal forces.

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