The relevance of data integration during the August 24th 2016 earthquake in Central Apennines (Italy)

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Massimo Cocco

EPOS project coordinator, INGV, Italy

The EPOS Newsletter issue 02
October 2016 | Highlights 01

On August 24th 2016 a ML 6.0 earthquake struck a sector of the central Apennines (Italy) between the towns of Amatrice and Norcia causing heavy damages in the area and nearly 300 fatalities. The preliminary analyses of the causative processes indicate that a nearly 20 km normal fault segment, striking along the Apennines and dipping 50° to the SW, ruptured in nearly 7 seconds producing evident directivity effects that contributed to the observed ground shaking. Despite the moderate magnitude of this seismic event, these preliminary investigations revealed a surprising complexity of the earthquake source confirming that the heterogeneity of the rupture history at the different spatial and temporal scales affected coseismic processes. This recent earthquake further emphasized the vulnerability of the anthropogenic environment and buildings in many villages and towns in Central Apennines (see Figure 2). It also corroborated the huge socio-economic impact of moderate-magnitude earthquakes in Italy, both in densely inhabited areas (as the area struck by the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake) as well as in rural areas (as in the 2016 Amatrice earthquake).

Investigating source processes in real time is one of the main objectives of seismology, and elaborating interpretative scenarios that help managing the post-earthquake emergency is the key challenge for those public institutions committed to providing real-time communications and authoritative interpretations to civil protection, policy makers and society. These investigations are possible only if different geophysical data and information are made available in real-time through high-quality monitoring networks and easily accessible scientific data repositories. EPOS is integrating these existing research infrastructures for solid Earth sciences. Seismologists have a long lasting tradition in sharing high-quality standardized data, collected through national and local networks participating to pan-European and global initiatives for data integration. These national monitoring networks and scientific data repositories have been developed and are sustained with national funds.

EPOS is integrating data, products and services provided by different scientific fields (e.g., seismology, geology, geodesy, geo-magnetism, rock physics, …) belonging to solid Earth sciences with the goal of fostering use and re-use of multidisciplinary data and products by different stakeholders.

The Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) in Italy is the organization committed to provide communications and authoritative interpretations to civil protection and society in Italy. Numerous skilled scientists are involved in maintaining and operating the observing systems necessary to guarantee the monitoring and the surveillance of the national territory. The recent earthquake in Central Apennines has represented a relevant experience in performing these activities for the post-earthquake emergency. Immediately after the earthquake, scientists had access to seismological real time data (both seismic waveforms and strong ground motion data) as well as to scientific data repositories containing information of historical earthquakes and damage patterns, geological information and seismic hazard maps. Noteworthy, GNSS data from the Italian geodetic network and satellite images from several space agencies (ASI, ESA, ALOS) were available in the first hours following the earthquake. This has been possible because of the development of specific services dedicated to provide access to and processing GNSS and satellite geodetic data. Real-time data were essential to provide the immediate information (concerning the magnitude, the stricken area, the affected towns and a first theoretical estimation of the macroseismic intensity based on the recorded ground shaking) to the civil protection, the society and the media. Within 48 hours a first interpretative model was available thanks to the analysis of ground deformation inferred from GPS displacement vectors and InSAR interferograms as well as source modelling retrieved by inverting these geophysical data (GPS, SAR and strong motion data). This was a novel experience that improved the capability to provide expert opinions and scientific support to the emergency planning and operation.

The experience that matured during the recent Amatrice earthquake in Italy is relevant for EPOS, because it further corroborates the importance of integrating high-quality standardized data (data harmonization and integration). Moreover, it emphasizes the relevance of implementing services to access and process real- or nearly real-time data: a necessary condition to obtain data products essential for interpreting the causative processes and provide authoritative scientific information to stakeholders (this motivates the efforts in different Thematic Core Services in EPOS, such as Seismology, Near-Fault Observatories, GPS data, Satellite Products, Geological observations). This recent experience also points out the urgent need of implemented data policies to allow the access to scientific data for fundamental research without interfering with the official commitments of those organizations involved in the surveillance of the national territory for civil protection purposes. Finally, this example testifies the multidisciplinary skills involved in solid Earth sciences, which motivates EPOS and contributes in demonstrating its scientific excellence.

The case of the 2016 Amatrice earthquake demonstrates that innovation is not limited to technological progress, and that for environmental sciences data, data-products and services provision is a complementary essential contribution to innovation in science and a science for society.