Three Decades of Seismic Activity at Mt. Vesuvius: 1972–2000
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We analyse the seismic catalogue of the local earthquakes which occurred at Somma-Vesuvius volcano in the past three decades (1972–2000). The seismicity in this period can be described as composed of a background level, characterised by a low and rather uniform rate of energy release and by sporadic periods of increased seismic activity. Such relatively intense seismicity periods are characterised by energy rates and magnitudes progressively increasing in the critical periods. The analysis of the b value in the whole period evidences a well-defined pattern, with values of b progressively decreasing, from about 1.8 at the beginning of the considered period, to about 1.0 at present. This steady variation indicates an increasing dynamics in the volcanic system. Within this general trend it is possible to identify a substructure in the time sequence of the seismic events, formed by the alternating episodes of quiescence and activity. The analysis of the source moment tensor of the largest earthquakes shows that the processes at the seismic source are generally not consistent with simple double-couples, but that they are compatible with isotropic components, mostly indicating volumetric expansion. These components are shown to be statistically significant for most of the analysed events. Such focal mechanisms can be interpreted as the effect of explosion phenomena, possibly related to volatile exsolution from the crystallising magma. The availability of a reduced amount of high quality data necessary for the inversion of the source moment tensor, the still limited period of systematic observation of Vesuvius micro-earthquakes and, above all, the absence of eruptive events during such interval of time, cannot obviously permit the outlining of any formal premonitory signal. Nevertheless, the analysis reported in this paper indicates a progressively evolving dynamics, characterised by a generally increasing trend in the seismic activity in the volcanic system and by a significant volumetric component of recent major events, thus posing serious concern for a future evolution towards eruptive activity.
Key wordsSeismicity microearthquakes earthquake-source mechanism earthquake catalogue b values Vesuvius
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