Articles | Volume 12, issue 7
Research article
24 Jul 2012
Research article |  | 24 Jul 2012

Active faults and historical earthquakes in the Messina Straits area (Ionian Sea)

A. Polonia, L. Torelli, L. Gasperini, and P. Mussoni

Abstract. The Calabrian Arc (CA) subduction complex is located at the toe of the Eurasian Plate in the Ionian Sea, where sediments resting on the lower plate have been scraped off and piled up in the accretionary wedge due to the African/Eurasian plate convergence and back arc extension. The CA has been struck repeatedly by destructive historical earthquakes, but knowledge of active faults and source parameters is relatively poor, particularly for seismogenic structures extending offshore. We analysed the fine structure of major tectonic features likely to have been sources of past earthquakes: (i) the NNW–SSE trending Malta STEP (Slab Transfer Edge Propagator) fault system, representing a lateral tear of the subduction system; (ii) the out-of-sequence thrusts (splay faults) at the rear of the salt-bearing Messinian accretionary wedge; and (iii) the Messina Straits fault system, part of the wide deformation zone separating the western and eastern lobes of the accretionary wedge.

Our findings have implications for seismic hazard in southern Italy, as we compile an inventory of first order active faults that may have produced past seismic events such as the 1908, 1693 and 1169 earthquakes. These faults are likely to be source regions for future large magnitude events as they are long, deep and bound sectors of the margin characterized by different deformation and coupling rates on the plate interface.