, Volume 68, Issue 5, pp 462-479
Date: 10 Dec 2005

The landslides and tsunamis of the 30th of December 2002 in Stromboli analysed through numerical simulations

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On the 30th of December 2002 two tsunamis were generated only 7 min apart in Stromboli, southern Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy. They represented the peak of a volcanic crisis that started 2 days before with a large emission of lava flows from a lateral vent that opened some hundreds of meters below the summit craters. Both tsunamis were produced by landslides that detached from the Sciara del Fuoco. This is a morphological scar and is the result of the last collapse of the northwestern flank of the volcanic edifice, that occurred less than 5 ka b.p. The first tsunami was due to a submarine mass movement that started very close to the coastline and that involved about 20×106 m3 of material. The second tsunami was engendered by a subaerial landslide that detached at about 500 m above sea level and that involved a volume estimated at 4–9×106 m3. The latter landslide can be seen as the retrogressive continuation of the first failure. The tsunamis were not perceived as distinct events by most people. They attacked all the coasts of Stromboli within a few minutes and arrived at the neighbouring island of Panarea, 20 km SSW of Stromboli, in less than 5 min. The tsunamis caused severe damage at Stromboli.

In this work, the two tsunamis are studied by means of numerical simulations that use two distinct models, one for the landslides and one for the water waves. The motion of the sliding bodies is computed by means of a Lagrangian approach that partitions the mass into a set of blocks: we use both one-dimensional and two-dimensional schemes. The landslide model calculates the instantaneous rate of the vertical displacement of the sea surface caused by the motion of the underwater slide. This is included in the governing equations of the tsunami, which are solved by means of a finite-element (FE) technique. The tsunami is computed on two different grids formed by triangular elements, one covering the near-field around Stromboli and the other also including the island of Panarea.

The simulations show that the main tsunamigenic potential of the slides is restricted to the first tens of seconds of their motion when they interact with the shallow-water coastal area, and that it diminishes drastically in deep water. The simulations explain how the tsunamis that are generated in the Sciara del Fuoco area, are able to attack the entire coastline of Stromboli with larger effects on the northern coast than on the southern. Strong refraction and bending of the tsunami fronts is due to the large near-shore bathymetric gradient, which is also responsible for the trapping of the waves and for the persistence of the oscillations. Further, the first tsunami produces large waves and runup heights comparable with the observations. The simulated second tsunami is only slightly smaller, though it was induced by a mass that is approximately one third of the first. The arrival of the first tsunami is negative, in accordance with most eyewitness reports. Conversely, the leading wave of the second tsunami is positive.

Editorial responsibility: A. Woods