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Nature

This Weekend's Italian Earthquake Shattered Part Of A Mountain

author

Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

clockOct 31 2016, 18:05 UTC

The newly formed crack running through the Italian mountain. Sky TG24 via Twitter

This Sunday, a 6.6M earthquake struck central-northern Italy. With a depth of just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), this shallow and destructive tremor – the most energetic in the region since 1980 – somehow avoided killing a single person, unlike its August predecessor that ultimately killed around 300.

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As reported by Sky TG24, this new event was powerful enough to have actually partially shattered a mountain, Monte Vettore, near to the epicenter. Although it’s not clear how far the crack goes through the rock, it’s a frightening visual metaphor for how literally Earth-shattering this series of earthquakes has been.

Even if this is just a surface-level fracture, it may have segregated the upper segment of the mountain from its more solid base beneath it.

Hundreds of aftershocks are currently taking place, and it’s fairly likely that more powerful tremors will rock the region in the near future. One of these could dislodge the top section of the mountain and trigger a major landslide, but again, this depends on how badly serrated the mountain has become.

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As we’ve explained here, this earthquake is part of a series that began with the 6.2M event back in August. They are all taking place within the Apennines, a mountainous backbone running through Italy that’s being pulled apart by the extension of a basin in the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west.

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It’s unusual that a more powerful event would take place so soon after an already violent earthquake – it normally takes a considerable amount of time to build up enough stress to unleash a tremor like this, not just a couple of months.

However, it’s probable that this new quake was generated as the result of a previously inactive fault slipping downwards. Its energy release may have transferred stress to other fault networks nearby, which suggests that plenty of aftershocks will continue to occur for many more weeks, and perhaps months.


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