Quake Rerouted Po River, Study Finds

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August 16, 2015

A 16th-Century Italian earthquake was so powerful that it moved the Po River 25 miles north, new research has found.

The quake, which struck on November 16, 1570, was estimated to have registered 5.8 on the Richter Scale and caused widespread damage in and around the town of Ferrara. Half the city was gone in a flash.

It was the first documented episode of liquefaction in the Po Valley.

In addition, the quake caused the bank of the river to shift upward from 4 to 6 inches and move the course of the river. The force of the quake moved the river delta 25 miles north, to where the delta is now.

A series of 2,000 aftershocks hit the area through February 1571.

In response to this earthquake and its land- and water-shifting power, Italian architect Pirro Ligorio set about making plans for buildings that could withstand such jolts in Earth’s crust. The results included the world’s first earthquake observatory.

The report, in the July 20, 2015, issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, also identified the location of the fault that caused the quake. The fault, known as a blind fault because it isn’t visible from Earth’s surface, is 9 miles north-northeast of Ferrara.

The study also compared the 1570 damage to that caused by a much more recent earthquake, that in May 2012. Ferrara was a city damaged by that quake as well, as were the nearby cities of Finale Emilia and Modena. The 2012 quake registered 6.1 on the Richter Scale but was along a different fault from the one that caused the 1570 quake.

The 1570 earthquake was one of several known to have moved rivers. Two others in the United States are the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1811 New Madrid earthquake.

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