L’Aquila earthquake


The earthquake in L’Aquila, in the Abruzzo region in Italy’s central Appenine mountains, is a good example for a case study because it has several distinctive threads:

  • There was an element of controversy over the “prediction” of a big earthquake in the preceding months, although the experts say there is no way the timing of an earthquake can be successfully predicted.  We will look at the case of the man who says he predicted the earthquake, and also the curious case of the toads…  Can earthquakes be predicted?
  • We shall examine the science and see who there were so many fore-shocks and after-shocks, for weeks before and after the main 6.2 quake of 6th April 2009.  What are P-waves?  What are S-waves?
  • What are the reasons that Italy and the Appenine chain are so vulnerable to earthquakes?  How does the particular local arrangement of tectonic plates make this the most unstable seismic region in Europe?
  • The earthquake safety organisations reassured the people of L’Aquila that they had nothing to fear, and that the buildings would stand up to even a large quake. They were wrong, and they were charged with failure to adequately protect the people from the danger, found guilty and sentenced to prison.  Later the convictions were dropped dropped for most of the scientists, but one only had his sentenced reduced and his conviction stood.  We need to ask, can an earthquake be predicted?  Should those whose job it is to protect the public be blamed for earthquake damage and loss of lives?
  • The safety standards were compromised in the building of “earthquake-proofed” houses and public buildings in L’Aquila. Many blamed the Mafia – which has a well-known interest in the building trade – from pocketing extra grants for earthquake standard buildings, while they actually built to a cheaper and less safe standard.  What are the ways in which buildings can be built to withstand earthquakes?  Can ancient historic buildings also be reinforced without compromising their cultural value?

1. Start with the news on the day: an early report of the event, from a CNN Rome correspondent.

2. Another news clip (in Italian) from the day of the earthquake has a live filming of an aftershock – at 5 minutes 30 seconds into the film.

3. The USGS summary of the earthquake event. What lessons can be learned from the L’Aquila quake?  Damage was due to lack of implementation of the building regulations. It is also pointed out that the lack of preparedness for an earthquake event was  a major contributing factor.

4. The prediction controversy (i): Giuliani’s claim to have predicted the quake from radon gas emissions.

5. Trial of the scientists: the trial opened in September 2011

6. The prediction controversy (ii):  The trial and sentencing of the L’Aquila scientists. American geophysisicists discuss the verdicts and the implications for scientists everywhere.



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