New simulations and understanding of the 1908 Messina tsunami for a dual seismic and deep submarine mass failure source

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Over 100 years after the event, the mechanism of the 1908 Messina tsunami remains unresolved. The up to 12 m runups observed along the coasts of Sicily and Calabria cannot be explained by the coseismic tsunami, so recent studies have proposed a dual earthquake/submarine mass failure (SMF) mechanism. Here we propose a new dual source and use it to simulate tsunami generation with a three-dimensional non-hydrostatic model, coupled to a two-dimensional fully nonlinear and dispersive model, to simulate tsunami propagation to shore. We first reanalyze observations of tsunami arrival times from eyewitnesses acquired shortly after the 1908 event, and a tsunami record at a tide gauge in Malta. Similar to earlier work, this data is used to locate the likeliest tsunami source area by inverse wave ray tracing, but accounting for frequency dispersion effects on wave celerity, uncertainty in reported arrival times, and a time delay between the EQ and SMF triggering. Analyzing the seafloor morphology in this area, we identify a new SMF at the foot of the Fiumefreddo Valley, northeast of Mount Etna. The general location is consistent with earlier studies, however our SMF is much smaller (~2 km3) than, e.g., that of Billi et al. (2008) and is a fairly rigid-block-slump, rather than a translational SMF. We model the block motion and simulate tsunami generation from a dual EQ/SMF source, and its propagation to shore, in higher resolution grids and based on more accurate bathymetry and topography than in earlier work. Runups and travel times agree well with observations, except for runups on either side of the Messina Straits north of the SMF, which are still underpredicted. In the far field, simulations reproduce well the arrival time and initial wave amplitudes at the Malta tide gauge. Our newly parameterized SMF and modeling improve tsunami runups simulated near the SMF location and south of it. However, as with all previous modeling of this event, additional sources are required to explain runups in the northern Messina Straits, which we suggest might be smaller and shallower SMFs located in this area. These will be considered in future work.

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Marine Geology