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Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397

Earthquake-induced ground failures in Italy

Alberto Prestininzi a, Roberto Romeo b, *
a University of Urbino, Institute of Engineering Geology, Campus Scientifico, I-61029 Urbino, Italy
b National Seismic Survey, Rome, Italy

Received 3 April 2000; accepted for publication 10 May 2000


The National Catalog of Ground Failures Induced by Strong Earthquakes in Italy (CEDIT ), is described. The
catalog holds data on ground failures triggered by the earthquakes that occurred in Italy in the last millennium and
which had a nominal epicentral intensity equal to or greater than VIII in the MercalliCancaniSieberg (MCS)
intensity scale. The ground effects reported in the catalog are the following: landslides, fractures, liquefaction, surface
faulting, and topographic changes of the ground level (subsidence, settlements, tilting, and so on). Each effect is
described in terms of seismological parameters of the triggering earthquake, site coordinates and administrative code,
lithology and kinematic type of the ground failure. The catalog represents a tool to assess the susceptibility of geologic
materials to ground shaking, and to validate predictive models of seismically induced ground displacements (scenarios
of earthquake-induced geologic risks). In the context of this study, a simple statistical analysis of the database yielded
useful relations between the parameters of the triggering earthquakes and the related effects. 2000 Elsevier Science
B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Database; Earthquakes; Ground failures; Statistics

1. Introduction quake risk mitigation is currently focused on inves-

tigations about seismic events and the influence of
Italy is characterized by seismic activity due to geologic site conditions on the ground shaking
the tectonic processes that are active in the scenarios.
Mediterranean area. In the last two centuries This paper reviews the ground failures that were
alone, at least 20 destructive earthquakes were triggered by strong earthquakes in Italy in the last
recorded, whose magnitude was equal to or greater millennium. Earthquakes with an epicentral inten-
than 6. The two last destructive earthquakes hit sity of at least MercalliCancaniSieberg (MCS)
the southern and central Apennine areas in 1980 VIII (Sieberg, 1930) were investigated in detail.
(Irpinia M 6.8 earthquake) and in 1997 ( Umbria The study involved an extensive historical
Marche M 6.0 earthquake). search of the earthquakes that caused ground
The development of a rational policy of earth- effects, such as landslides, ground cracking, surface
faulting, liquefaction, and topographic changes of
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +39-06-4444-2276;
fax: +39-06-4466579.
the ground level. To build the database of ground
E-mail address:; effects, resort was made to numerous historical
(R. Romeo) data sources. The retrieved data underwent critical

0013-7952/00/$ - see front matter 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S0 0 1 3 -7 9 5 2 ( 0 0 ) 0 0 04 4 - 2
388 A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397

Fig. 1. Location of earthquakes with data on seismically induced ground failures.

analysis both to check the reliability of their $ Catalog of Italian earthquakes from 1000 AD
sources and to translate their content from ancient to 1980 AD and Atlas of Isoseismal Maps of
to modern language. Italian Earthquakes, issued by the National
The data have been stored on magnetic media Council of ResearchGeodynamic Finalized
and represent the core of the Italian data bank of Project (Postpischl, 1985a,b). The catalog
ground failures triggered by earthquakes. The data quotes about 37,000 events with an epicentral
bank, structured in different levels of information, intensity above MCS IV; the atlas contains brief
constitutes the first National Catalog of Ground monographic studies on 80 relevant earthquakes
Effects Induced by Strong Earthquakes1 (CEDIT ) with an epicentral intensity of at least MCS IX.
in Italy. $ A parametric catalog of Italian earthquakes,
specifically designed for hazard studies (NT4
catalog), edited by the National Research
2. Data sources Group for Defense against Earthquakes
(G.N.D.T., 1996). The catalog covers a time-
The following seismic catalogs were consulted span from 1000 AD to 1992 AD, and reports a
to select earthquakes above the threshold intensity total of 2488 earthquakes with epicentral inten-
(VIII MCS ): sities above MCS V.
$ Catalog of strong earthquakes in Italy from 461
1 The catalog (in Italian) is available at the following Internet BC to 1980 AD (CFT catalog), issued by the
address: National Institute of Geophysics (I.N.G.,
A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397 389

Fig. 2. Comparison between number of earthquakes with data on induced ground failures (CEDIT catalog) and total number of
earthquakes reported in the NT4 seismic catalog (G.N.D.T., 1996).

Fig. 3. Cumulative distribution function of site intensity (MCS scale) reported in all the ground failures listed in the CEDIT catalog.
390 A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397

1995), listing 559 earthquakes with epicentral kinematic characterization of landslides, use was
intensity equal to or greater than MCS VIII. made of a simplified subdivision into three material
As a consequence of the fact that earthquakes categories (rock, debris and earth) according to
were selected from multiple seismic catalogs, the Varnes (1978) landslide classification.
same seismic event may be parameterized with All the retrieved data have been organized and
different epicentral intensities, which may even lie stored into a relational database, consisting of five
below the threshold intensity. tables with different levels of information:
The main historical studies of Italian seis- Earthquakes, Localities, Historical Citations,
mology, represented by the descriptive catalogs of Bibliography, and Ground Effects. The core of the
Bonito (1691), Capocci (1861), Mercalli (1883, database is the Ground Effects table, recording the
1891, 1897), Baratta (1901) and Cavasino (1935), ground failures triggered by the seismic events
were consulted. From these studies and their refer- listed in the Earthquakes table, and occurring in
ences, many contemporary chronicles, news and different sites (Localities table). Descriptions of the
reports were retrieved. This material was supple- ground effects are given in the Historical Citations
mented with more recent seismological studies on table, deriving from the searched historical sources
the most significant past earthquakes. A review (Bibliography table).
was also made of some catalogs on ground effects Around half of the selected earthquakes pro-
that were already available (Almagia, 1910; vided data on seismically induced ground failures.
Berardi et al., 1991; Galli and Meloni, 1993). Fig. 1 shows the location of these earthquakes,
Sites where ground failures took place were and Fig. 2 compares the earthquakes listed in
classified from the lithological point of view catalog NT4 with the seismic events for which
through field observation and available geologic information on ground failures was inferred. The
maps. Since this classification was linked to the percentage of earthquakes with ground failure

Fig. 4. Frequency distribution of earthquake-induced ground failures. Landslides are classified on the basis of the prevailing material
in which they occurred. Categories labeled as generic refer to ground failure types not better defined.
A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397 391

reports increases from 28% for an intensity of is MCS IV, whereas the triggering threshold
MCS VIII to 100% for intensities above X, because (defined as the site intensity with a 10% non-
strong earthquakes are associated with more com- exceedance probability) is MCS VIIVIII.
plete data and are more likely to have triggered For convenience, intensities are expressed in
ground failures than moderate earthquakes. Arabic rather than Roman numbers in all the
Since most of the earthquakes with ground figures of this paper.
failure reports occurred in pre-instrumental times,
the terms site intensity or epicentral intensity will
always be used hereafter to define ground shaking
at a given site or the size of a given earthquake 3. Database content
respectively. With regard to the earthquake catalog
NT4 (adopted for most of the analyses displayed About 1800 ground effects have been identified,
hereinafter), a simple conversion from epicentral whose distribution by failure type is shown in
intensity I to surface wave magnitude M is given Fig. 4. The most numerous failures are Landslides
o s
by the following relation (Romeo and Pugliese, (41%), followed by Fractures (32%), Liquefaction
2000): (18%), Topographic changes (8%), and Surface
faulting (1%). Landslides are classified on the basis
M =1.06+0.56I 0.37. (1)
s o of the prevailing material in which they occurred.
Ground failures were reported in about 1000 locali- Fractures related to slides indicate ground cracks
ties, whose cumulative distribution function of site from which landslides subsequently developed, for
intensity is shown in Fig. 3. Minimum site intensity instance, owing to intense rainfall. Categories

Fig. 5. Distribution of minimum site intensities at which ground failures occurred. The ordinate is the percentages of earthquakes
for which ground failures were reported at specific site intensities.
392 A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397

labeled as generic refer to ground failures with Fig. 5 displays the predominant minimum site
no better definition. intensity and the lowest site intensity that triggered
Of course the database is largely incomplete; ground failures, according to the procedure devel-
this could not be otherwise, since most of the data oped by Keefer (1984). The lowest site intensity is
derive from historical sources of earthquakes that MCS IV in all categories of ground effects, except
occurred in past centuries. In fact, ground failures for Topographic changes, for which the minimum
inferred from intensity reports are only a small site intensity is MCS V. The predominant mini-
fraction of the failures that actually occurred [see, mum site intensity is, again, the same for
for comparison, Keefer (1984): table 3]. This is Landslides, Fractures and Liquefaction (MCS
due to the fact that the reliability and amount of VIII ), and slightly lower for Topographic changes
data are strongly influenced by the historical period (MCS VII ). These findings corroborate that
and context existing when the earthquakes took ground failures are triggered by minimum site
place. Analogously, built-up areas usually reported intensities smaller than those indicated in the MCS
more data on ground failures than less urbanized scale ( VIIVIII ). Thus, the MCS site intensities
ones. Anyway, even if the data are incomplete, may be considered as predominant minimum site
this research captured as large a number as possible intensities, i.e., intensities with a high probability
of ground failures reported in the main historical of inducing ground failures.
sources of Italian seismicity. The catalog provides Fig. 6 plots the epicentral distances at which
an interesting view of these phenomena, and it ground failures occurred, versus epicentral inten-
may be regarded as the lower bound of the modes sities. Only ground effects inferred from at least
of occurrence and behavior of ground effects two independent sources of information have been
induced by past Italian earthquakes. selected and plotted. The reported minimum epi-

Fig. 6. Maximum epicentral distances at which ground failures occurred, as a function of epicentral intensity (MCS scale).
A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397 393

Fig. 7. Comparison of lines of maximum distance for the induced ground effects as a function of epicentral intensity.

central intensity at which landslides and fractures inferred from the CEDIT catalog with sufficient
were triggered is MCS VIVII, whereas liquefac- reliability. Only five instances lie beyond the line
tion and topographic changes require an epicentral drawn by Keefer (1984). Sources of possible errors
intensity of at least VIIVIII to be induced. Fig. 7 in plotting points are related to both earthquake
compares the envelopes of maximum distances of magnitude determination and epicenter-to-site dis-
all ground failure categories. Fractures (including tance computation. Error bars, representing one
ground cracks) are observed at the longest dis- standard deviation from the conversion of epi-
tances and with the smallest epicentral intensities. central intensity to magnitude [Eq. (1)], have been
Lines of maximum distance for Liquefaction and added to the above data points. They explain
Topographic changes are almost parallel, but the divergences from the envelope set by Keefer (1984)
former requires less energy content of ground for three out of five data points. Further errors in
shaking, to be triggered, than the latter. Fractures earthquake/site location might explain the two
are generally recorded at longer distances than other outliers. In fact, uncertainty in earthquake
Landslides. However, fractures often represent a location may give rise to errors as large as 50 km
latent state of pre-landslide, and landslide bodies (Postpischl, 1985a) for the oldest events.
always have a related pattern of ground cracks. As an example of an alternative way to express
Thus, the line of maximum distances for Fractures the maximum concentration of landslides with
can also be interpreted as the upper bound of distance from the earthquake source, Fig. 9 exhib-
distances at which landslides may occur. its the largest landslides triggered by the 1980
Fig. 8 compares the maximum distances pre- Irpinia, M 6.8 earthquake (I MCS IXX ). To
s o
dicted by Keefer (1984) and the present ones for get a complete set of major landslides, only land-
the landslide category of falls and disrupted slides. slide areas that exceeded approximately 0.3 km2
The comparison is restricted to this landslide cate- have been selected (Cotecchia, 1982; DElia et al.,
gory alone, because it is the only one that can be 1985). In fact, the database of minor landslides
394 A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397

definitions. Moreover, it may be useful to identify

the areas of maximum concentration of major
landslides. For instance, by assuming that distances
corresponding to 90% of the cumulative distribu-
tions are representative of the equivalent radii of
maximum concentration, values of 38 km and
58 km are obtained for fault distance and epi-
central distance respectively. Carrara et al. (1986)
reported that slope movements, activated by the
Irpinia earthquake, occurred throughout an area
of more than 10,000 km2. This value is in good
agreement with both the observation made by
Keefer (1984: fig. 1) for earthquakes of magnitude
6.86.9, and with the epicentral radius displayed
in Fig. 10. The maximum epicentral distance at
which major landslides occurred during the Irpinia
earthquake was approximately 90 km, which is, in
turn, in good agreement with the prediction made
through the line of maximum distances for
Landslides (Fig. 7) when the epicentral intensity is
equal to MCS IXX.
Surface faulting represents only a small fraction
of the documented ground effects (about 1%). This
is due to the difficulty of retrieving, from historical
sources, reliable data on differential movements
that are unrelated to gravitational collapses.
Moreover, surface faulting is directly related to
Fig. 8. Maximum epicentral distance of disrupted slides and the severity of seismic shaking. In fact, the thresh-
falls ( Keefers category 1) for earthquakes of different magni- old magnitude for triggering surface faulting is
tudes. Magnitudes were converted from epicentral intensities
through Eq. (1). For data points lying outside the envelope
demonstrated to be around 6 (Bonilla, 1988). The
defined by Keefer (1984) (bold solid line), error bars accounting minimum epicentral intensity at which surface
for uncertainty in magnitude attribution (one standard devia- faulting was reported is MCS VIIIIX, corre-
tion) are plotted. sponding to an estimated surface wave magnitude
of 5.8 [Eq. (1)]. In Fig. 11 two lines are plotted
(amounting to some hundreds) is largely incom- showing the possible range of maximum lengths
plete, thereby negatively affecting the considera- for coseismic surface faulting. Maximum length is
tions that follow. The above earthquake inferred from the maximum distance between the
(re)activated about 40 major landslides (mainly two extreme segments of the surface faulting recog-
consisting of earth and debris slides and flows), nized in the field. This range also accounts for the
whose cumulative distributions as a function of complexity of the earthquake process at high mag-
the epicentral distance and the shortest distance to nitudes, when multiple fault ruptures are more
the surface projection of the causative fault are likely to occur.
shown in Fig. 10. Fault distances have been mea-
sured from the main rupture shown in Fig. 9, since
the secondary rupture contributed only 15% of the 4. Conclusions
total energy released by the earthquake (Bernard
and Zollo, 1989). The plot indicates a mean factor This paper describes the content of a catalog
around two between the two different distance reporting the largest ground failures that were
A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397 395

Fig. 9. Landslides triggered by the 1980 Irpinia, M 6.8 earthquake (I MCS IXX ). Only landslide areas that exceeded approximately
s o
0.3 km2 are shown. Long and short dark solid lines denote the respective directions of the main normal fault (NE-dipping), and of
the antithetic normal fault activated 40 s after the mainshock [data on seismic sources from Bernard and Zollo (1989)]. Filled star
marks the location of the epicenter.

Fig. 10. Cumulative percentage of the largest landslides triggered by the 1980 Irpinia, M 6.8 earthquake, as a function of epicentral
distance and shortest distance from the fault rupture.

triggered by Italian earthquakes in the last which data on major ground failures are available.
millennium. About 1800 ground effects have been identified in
The research pointed out 153 earthquakes for 1000 localities.
396 A. Prestininzi, R. Romeo / Engineering Geology 58 (2000) 387397

Fig. 11. Maximum length of coseismic surface faulting for earthquakes of different epicentral intensity.

The catalog displays that Landslides and References

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