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Probing the 1908 tsunami

Marine geologists are currently searching for the source of a tsunami that impacted the Maltese coastline more than a century ago.

Waves from the tsunami reached the shores of Malta about an hour later

Southern Italy is one of the areas that are most prone to geo hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and tsunamis, in the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the most destructive events experienced by Italy in historical time was the Messina-Reggio Calabria earthquake of 1908, which resulted in 80,000 deaths. The earthquake was accompanied by a tsunami wave, up to 11 metres high, which caused the death of an additional 2,000 people and considerable damage along the south Italian coastline.

Waves from the tsunami reached the shores of Malta about an hour later, causing flooding in Msida and Marsaxlokk. A number of buildings and fishing boats were damaged or destroyed, but no deaths were recorded.

A research campaign, led by Prof. Sebastian Krastel from Geomar in Kiel, Germany, is currently underway on board the vessel R/V Meteor to map the seafloor offshore eastern Sicily, characterise its sub-surface and collect seafloor samples.

The data will allow scientists to understand whether the source of the 1908 tsunami was a sudden vertical movement of the seafloor during the Messina-Reggio Calabria earthquake, or whether it was caused by a giant submarine landslide.

Such information will improved assessment of geo hazard risks in the central Mediterranean region, including Malta.

The research team is made up of scientists from academic institutions in Germany, Italy, Turkey and the UK. The University of Malta is represented by Dr Aaron Micallef.

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