The 31 October and 1 November 2002 Molise earthquakes (both Mw 5.7) were caused by right-lateral slip between 12 and 20 km depth. These earthquakes are the result of large-scale reactivation of preexisting, left-lateral, regionally extended east–west structures of Mesozoic age. Although recorded ground motions were generally smaller than expected for typical Italian earthquakes, a recent paper attributes a stress drop as high as 180 bars to the Molise earthquakes. We remark that a high stress drop is in contrast both with the relatively long source duration inferred in previous investigations and with geodetic evidence for a significantly smaller fault slip compared with other Apennine earthquakes having similarly large rupture area (e.g., 1997 Umbria–Marche earthquakes).

We analyzed both ground acceleration spectra of the mainshocks and single-station spectral ratios of broadband seismograms in an extended magnitude range (2.7≤Mw≤5.7). Our results show that neither the spectral amplitudes of recorded ground motions nor the spectral ratios can be fit by a high stress-drop source. Instead we find that the observations are consistent with a low stress drop, our best estimates ranging between 6 and 25 bars, in agreement with the relatively long source duration and small coseismic slip.

We interpret the low stress of the 2002 Molise earthquakes in terms of lower energy release mechanisms due to the reutilization of faults reactivated opposite to their original sense of slip.

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