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British researchers to study Italian aftershocks

UK scientists from the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the University of Edinburgh set off this week to the earthquake affected area of central Italy. The researchers will deploy seismometers to help better understand the science of aftershocks and how scientists might better assist global emergency response.

Dr Margarita Segou of the BGS, who is leading the team of scientists, said: ‘Large earthquakes are always followed by aftershocks which can severely hamper emergency response and are sources of concern for the displaced population. The aim of this immediate scientific response is to improve our understanding of aftershock sequences. The high-resolution data we are collecting will shed light on how earthquakes nucleate and trigger cascades of aftershocks. Ultimately, we want to make this knowledge operationally useful, particularly with respect to building resilience in a post-disaster environment.’

The 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit Italy at around 3 am on 24 of August and has resulted in approximately 240 deaths, with thousands of more people injured and displaced. Although this research cannot prevent earthquakes, it may be able to shed light on the frequency of such disasters and also inform researchers of the potential type and strength of aftershocks.

Dr Massimo Cocco of the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV, Rome) pointed out the importance of this collaboration to foster scientific understanding of the seismogenic structures. Cocco explained that this area of research would allow scientists to improve their ability to interpret the spatiotemporal evolution of aftershocks in nearly real time. Cocco stressed that unravelling the anatomy of active faults and the complexity of normal fault systems in the Apennines is crucial to assess seismic hazard as a key contribution to prevention actions.

Professor John McCloskey, of the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, emphasised the importance of the lessons learned in this rapid deployment, said: ‘This experience clearly identifies the work that needs to be done if we are to use our developing understanding of aftershock science to make a real difference to emergency response.

'We now know exactly what is needed scientifically, logistically, and technologically, we just need to get organised better to do it every time. We are actively trying to get funding for this vital work now and hope it will be all in place for the next big earthquake. The rapid response to this earthquake is helping us understand the critical issues.’

The British Geological Survey (BGS), a component body of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is the nation's principal supplier of objective and up-to-date geological expertise and information for governmental, commercial and individual users. The BGS maintains and develops the nation's understanding of its geology to improve policy making, enhance national wealth and reduce risk. It also collaborates with the national and international scientific community in carrying out research in strategic areas, including energy and natural resources, our vulnerability to environmental change and hazards, and our general knowledge of the 'Earth system'.

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