Researchers from the Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC) and the Institució Catalana de Recerca I Estudis Avançats (ICREA) in Spain, found the exact location of the tectonic plates between Europe and Africa near the Alboran sea, according to a study published in Nature Communications. The authors also assess the risk of large earthquakes and tsunamis.
This is the first time researchers have assessed the complex geometry of this active fault system. The study also describes how the plates have moved over the past 5 million years. “The quality of our data has allowed us to study, for the first time, the deep structure of these faults and thus quantify the deformation they accumulate. The results show that this is one of the most important fault systems in the region and that it has been absorbing most of the deformation caused by the collision of the Eurasian and African plates,” explained Laura Gómez de la Peña, ICM-CSIC researcher and lead author of the study.
Although the area has been extensively studied since the 70s, the data produced so far has been insufficient to understand how the plates are organised. Modern technologies have now made it possible to characterise in detail the complete system of faults that extends over 300 kilometers in what is now considered the most critical deformation in the Iberian Peninsula.
“To carry out the study, we used the latest data acquisition techniques on board the Spanish oceanographic vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa, and the processing was specifically designed to be able to observe the structures described now for the first time,” details the ICM-CSIC researcher and ICREA professor César R. Ranero, who has also participated in the study.
Until now, we didn’t know whether the Alboran Sea had large active faults or where the European and African plates collided. This information is vital to assess the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis along the coastal areas of the western Mediterranean. In fact, the authors suggest this risk may be higher than previously believed.
“These studies are a first appraisal of the seismic and tsunami potential of these large faults, which until now were almost completely unknown to us and which must be thoroughly evaluated in future studies,” concluded Gómez de la Peña.
Gómez de la Peña, L., R. Ranero, C., Gràcia, E. et al. Evidence for a developing plate boundary in the western Mediterranean. Nat Commun 13, 4786 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-31895-z