Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 172, Issue 5, pp 1105–1142 | Cite as

The Seismotectonics of the Po Plain (Northern Italy): Tectonic Diversity in a Blind Faulting Domain

  • Paola VannoliEmail author
  • Pierfrancesco Burrato
  • Gianluca Valensise


We present a systematic and updated overview of a seismotectonic model for the Po Plain (northern Italy). This flat and apparently quiet tectonic domain is, in fact, rather active as it comprises the shortened foreland and foredeep of both the Southern Alps and the Northern Apennines. Assessing its seismic hazard is crucial due to the concentration of population, industrial activities, and critical infrastructures, but it is also complicated because (a) the region is geologically very diverse, and (b) nearly all potential seismogenic faults are buried beneath a thick blanket of Pliocene–Pleistocene sediments, and thus can be investigated only indirectly. Identifying and parameterizing the potential seismogenic faults of the Po Plain requires proper consideration of their depth, geometry, kinematics, earthquake potential and location with respect to the two confronting orogens. To this end, we subdivided them into four main, homogeneous groups. Over the past 15 years we developed new strategies for coping with this diversity, resorting to different data and modeling approaches as required by each individual fault group. The most significant faults occur beneath the thrust fronts of the Ferrara-Romagna and Emilia arcs, which correspond to the most advanced and buried portions of the Northern Apennines and were the locus of the destructive May 2012 earthquake sequence. The largest known Po Plain earthquake, however, occurred on an elusive reactivated fault cutting the Alpine foreland south of Verona. Significant earthquakes are expected to be generated also by a set of transverse structures segmenting the thrust system, and by the deeper ramps of the Apennines thrusts. The new dataset is intended to be included in the next version of the Database of Individual Seismogenic Sources (DISS;, version 3.2.0, developed and maintained by INGV) to improve completeness of potential sources for seismic hazard assessment.


Blind faulting Seismogenic source Active tectonics Seismic hazard Inherited faults Po Plain 



We wish to thank all colleagues of the DISS Working Group, who helped characterizing the seismogenic sources of the Po Plain with constructive comments and discussions. We also thank Riccardo Caputo, Silvio Seno and an anonymous reviewer for their careful and thoughtful reviews, but we are especially grateful to the Associate Editor, Antonio Rovelli, for encouraging the submission of this contribution.


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© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paola Vannoli
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pierfrancesco Burrato
    • 1
  • Gianluca Valensise
    • 1
  1. 1.Seismology and Tectonophysics UnitIstituto Nazionale di Geofisica e VulcanologiaRomeItaly

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