In the last decade central Italy was struck by devastating seismic sequences resulting in hundreds of casualties (i.e., 2009-L′Aquila moment magnitude [Mw] = 6.3, and 2016-Amatrice-Visso-Norcia Mw max = 6.5). These seismic events were caused by two NW-SE−striking, SW-dipping, seismogenic normal faults that were modeled based on the available focal mechanisms and the seismic moment computed during the relative mainshocks. The seismogenic faults responsible for the 2009-L′Aquila Mw = 6.3 (Paganica Fault—PF) and 2016-Amatrice-Visso-Norcia Mw max = 6.5 (Monte Vettore Fault—MVF) are right-stepping with a negative overlap (i.e., underlap) located at the surface in the Campotosto area. This latter was affected by seismic swarms with magnitude ranging from 5.0 to 5.5 during the 2009 seismic sequence and then in 2017 (i.e., a few months later than the mainshocks related with the 2016 seismic sequence).

In this paper, the seismogenic faults related to the main seismic events that occurred in the Campotosto Seismic Zone (CSZ) were modeled and interpreted as a linkage fault zone between the PF and MVF interacting seismogenic faults. Based on the underlap dimension, the seismogenic potential of the CSZ is in the order of Mw = 6.0, even in the case that all the faults belonging to the zone were activated simultaneously. This has important implications for seismic hazard assessment in an area dominated by the occurrence of a major NW-SE−striking extensional structure, i.e., the Monte Gorzano Fault (MGF). Mainly due to its geomorphologic expression, this fault has been considered as an active and silent structure (therefore representing a seismic gap) able to generate an earthquake of Mw max = 6.5−7.0. However, the geological evidence provided with this study suggests that the MGF is of early (i.e., pre- to syn-thrusting) origin. Therefore, the evaluation of the seismic hazard in the Campotosto area should not be based on the geometrical characteristics of the outcropping MGF. This also generates substantial issues with earthquake geological studies carried out prior to the recent seismic events in central Italy. More in general, the 4-D high-resolution image of a crustal volume hosting an active linkage zone between two large seismogenic structures provides new insights into the behavior of interacting faults in the incipient stages of connection.

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