Geodynamics of the central-western Mediterranean region: plausible and non-plausible driving forces

Significance 

In the last 30 millions years the Mediterranean region has undergone a profound tectonic modification. The pre-existing Alpine orogenic belt have undergone considerable distortions and long migrations of even several hundreds of kilometers. Some zones, mainly located in the internal side of the migrating arcs, have undergone crustal extension and consequent thinning, with the formation of large basins. The complex of the above tectonic processes is generally identified as Arc-Trench-Back Arc system. The old oceanic and thinned continental zones which surrounded the African/Adriatic promontory have been almost completely consumed by subduction. Since extensional deformations are generally considered as scarcely compatible with the compressional context induced by plate convergence, some authors have tentatively advanced the hypothesis that other types of forces acted in the Mediterranean region. In particular, the most often cited interpretation suggests that the migration of arcs and the related back-arc extension have been driven by the gravitational sinking of subducted lithosphere (slab pull).

However, Italian researchers from the Department of Physical, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University of Siena: Professor Enzo Mantovani, Dr. Marcello Viti, Dr. Daniele Babbucci, Dr. Caterina Tamburelli together with Dr. Nicola Cenni from the Department of GeoSciences at University of Padua have argued that the implications of the slab pull driving force can hardly be reconciled with major features of the observed deformation pattern. In particular, the development of the northern, central and southern Tyrrhenian basins in three well distinct phases, since such events would require a discontinuous, very peculiar and scarcely plausible action of gravity on the Adriatic subducted margin. The above authors proposed that a more plausible and coherent explanation of the evolutionary history could be achieved by supposing that Arc-Trench-Back Arc systems developed in the framework of extrusion processes, that in some constricted contexts represented the most convenient shortening mechanism for accommodating plate convergence. Their work is currently published in the research journal, Marine and Petroleum Geology.

In summary, the Italian study critically reviewed existing literature and showed that majority of studies concerning the Mediterranean region often start by citing the various geodynamic interpretations so far proposed for this area, underlying the considerable ambiguity that still surrounds this problem. As such, the dependability of the obtained results is therefore heavily conditioned by the reliability of the adopted tectonic model. Overall, the focus of Professor Enzo Mantovani and his colleagues was to provide expert opinion aimed at obliviating the presumed ambiguity by analyzing the plausibility of the geodynamic interpretations so far proposed, first focusing attention on the models most often cited in literature.

About the author

Daniele Babbucci

Degree in Geological Sciences at the Univ. of Siena. He collaborated with the Geophysics Group of the Earth Sciences Department of the University of Siena about the geodynamic evolution of the Mediterranean region, obtaining scholarships and some research grants. Lectureship in Physics of the Earth for a few years. His research concerns the geodynamic and tectonic setting of the Mediteranean area and their implications on seismic activity and the tectonic implications of space geodesy data.The present research topics are seismicity and estimate of seismic hazard in the Italian region.

About the author

Nicola Cenni received the Degree in Physics in 1996 and the Ph.D. in Earth Sciences at the University of Siena in 2002. He is currently Junior Assistant Professor (RTD-A) at the Department of Geosciences, University of Padova. His scientific interests are concentrate on the time series analysis, use of multi-technique data (GNSS, SAR, leveling, piezometric levels, ) for monitoring processes such as subsidence, landslide areas, and tectonic deformations.

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About the author

Enzo Mantovani  

He taught Physics of the Earth (1975-2015) at the University of Siena. Full Professor since 1986. Researches on Seismology, Geophysics, Tectonophysics and Geodesy. The most important results concern the Geodynamics of the Mediterranean region, the Connection between tectonic processes and spatio-temporal distribution of major earthquakes and the Estimate of seismic hazard in Italy. He has collaborated since 1990 with the Regione Toscana (Italy) for the study of the seismotectonic setting and seismic hazard in the Northern Apennines.

About the author

Dr. Marcello Viti is a Researcher of the University of Siena, Italy, where he teaches Geophysics and Geology of Geothermal Systems. His research concerns the processes related to plate tectonics and their implications on seismic activity, particularly in the Mediterranean area. He also analyzes the geothermal resources and the environmental sustainability of geothermal industry.

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About the author

Caterina Tamburelli

Graduated in Geological Sciences at the University of Siena., then PhD in Earth Sciences. Since 1994, she collaborated with the Geophysics Group of the Earth Sciences Department of Siena, obtaining various scholarships, a research grant and some collaboration contracts. Research activity concerns the Geodynamics of the Mediterranean region, with particular regard to the Italian zone, the Tectonic implications of geodetic data, the Reconstruction of the recent/present structural/tectonic setting in the Apennine chain and analysis of its possible connections with the space-time distribution of seismic activity.

Reference

E. Mantovani, M. Viti, D. Babbucci, C. Tamburelli, N. Cenni. Geodynamics of the central-western Mediterranean region: plausible and non-plausible driving forces. Marine and Petroleum Geology, volume 113 (2020) 104121.

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