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Earthquakes and tsunamis in Europe?


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Since the tsunami that devastated coastlines around the Indian Ocean in December 2004 and the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, people around the world are realizing that geological processes in the ocean can cause significant damage. From a European perspective, such events are seen mostly in faraway regions. “It is often forgotten that European coasts are also located in very tectonically active regions – and that many disasters have occurred here in the past,” says Professor Dr Hedron Kopp, a geophysicist from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research. Co-Chair of the European Maritime Council Working Group on this topic. The European Maritime Council is a consortium of major national marine or oceanographic institutes, research funding agencies, and national university consortia with a strong focus on marine research from across Europe. Under the leadership of Professor Cobb, a position paper on marine geo-risks has now been published.

The position paper “Marine Geospatial Hazards: Protecting Society and the Blue Economy from a Hidden Threat” provides information on the underlying risks and provides recommendations for future research and policy. The position paper was launched at the 8th European Maritime Council Forum focused on supporting the Ocean Decade in Europe, held in Brussels, Belgium. “This position paper is very relevant to European countries,” Hedron Cope emphasizes. “If a natural disaster occurs on the coasts of Europe, all EU countries will participate – both in disaster relief and in financing reconstruction.”

Multiple threats

For the position paper, scientists from a number of European Maritime Council member institutions identified multiple threats. These include earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which can subsequently lead to tsunamis. Tsunamis can also occur when landslides occur on the sea floor. In addition, there are smaller events that may not cause much destruction but may result in significant economic damage. For example, large sandbars can move along the ocean floor, similar to the movement of sand dunes in deserts. These sandbars can cover and damage pipelines or deep-sea cables for communications and Internet traffic, and cause costs of several million euros to businesses and governments. Hedron Cope: “Our goal is not to build a major disaster scenario, but to draw attention to threats so that policymakers and authorities can prepare and respond accordingly.” A key aspect is better risk assessment in marine spatial planning and construction projects. “The probabilities of geological events such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions have not changed over millions of years. But the scale of the damage is increasing because the coasts are getting more densely populated, and we have built ports and industrial facilities on the coasts and on the sea floor, and we have generally accumulated great values ​​there “.

Detailed map of the sea floor

The authors of the position paper also stress that there is still a significant need for research to improve the assessment of geological hazards in the seas of Europe. For example, there is not yet a high-resolution map of the sea floor that accurately shows the geological fault zones and continental plate margins where earthquakes often occur. They also say that there is no detailed knowledge of the location and movement of the great sandbanks yet. So the researchers propose large-scale measurement programs that map the sea floor to centimeter precision. “We want to identify those structures that are particularly problematic,” says Heidrun Kopp. “In many cases, we still don’t know exactly where these sites are. We don’t even know the exact location of the 1908 Messina earthquake that struck Italy and caused the highest number of casualties ever recorded by a European earthquake. More than 80,000 people died at that time.”

Extensive measurement programs may be the first step toward greater safety. The next step would be to cover particularly critical points with a measurement grid – as is already the case at Mount Etna, for example. For a long time, the side of the volcano has been sinking into the sea by 2-3 centimeters per year. This movement is common and not a cause for concern. However, if the land mass is going to move faster at some point, the monitoring network will sound the alarm – to warn of a major landslide in the submarine. “The most important goal of our paper is to make these threats visible,” says Heidrun Kopp. “We want to help raise awareness among citizens and decision-makers about the risks in the future.”

Southern Italy: Earthquake risk due to active plate boundaries More information: Position paper:… o_Hazards_v5_web.pdf Submitted by Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers

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