The recent devastating earthquakes and associated tsunamis in Japan, Indonesia, and Haiti, which killed more than half a million people, highlighted how mankind is still far away from a satisfactory level of seismic risk mitigation.

Among the regions around the Mediterranean Sea for which earthquakes represent a major threat to the social and economic development, the area around the Marmara Sea, as one of the most densely populated parts of Europe, is subject to a high level of seismic hazard. In only the last twelve years, substantial damage and casualties were produced in 1999 Izmit (Turkey), 1999 Athens (Greece) and 2009 L’Aquila (Italy) to name just three damaging earthquakes.

The 1999 Izmit earthquake struck near the city North-western Anatolian city of Izmit on August 17, 1999. According to official government estimates (as of October 19, 1999), it killed 17,127, and injured more than 43,953 people. Estimates of property losses (as of September 14, 1999) according to the World Bank range from $3 to $6.5 billion, which is equivalent to 1.5 to 3.3 percent of the Gross National Product of Turkey. It was the most devastating earthquake to strike Turkey since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake which killed 30,000 people.

For more than two millennia the Marmara region has been the crossroads between east and west. Being a continuously populated region and having as its centre Istanbul, the capital of both Eastern Roman and Ottoman empires, the historical seismicity record is continuous and relatively complete. Earthquake records spanning two millennia indicate that, on average, at least one medium intensity earthquake has affected Istanbul in every 50 years. The average return period for high intensity events has been about 250-300 years, the last one of which was in 1766.

Unfortunately, this type of catastrophic event is now expected in the Marmara region, with a probability in excess of 65% in 30 years, due to the existing seismic gap and the post-1999 earthquake stress transfer at the western portion of the 1000km-long North Anatolian Fault Zone (NAFZ), passing through the Marmara Sea about 15 km from Istanbul. The well-documented historical earthquakes in Marmara Region and the earthquakes occurred in the last century indicate that the segments of the NAFZ are seismically active and have the capability of generating destructive earthquakes.

MARSite’s Objectives

MARSite aims assessing the “state of the art” of seismic risk evaluation and management at European level to establish a starting point to move a “step forward” towards new concepts of risk mitigation and management by long-term monitoring activities carried out both on land and at sea.

MARSite will coordinate research groups with different scientific skills in a comprehensive monitoring activity developed both in the Marmara Sea and in the surrounding urban and country areas. The project plans to coordinate initiatives to collect multidisciplinary data, to be shared, interpreted and merged in consistent theoretical and practical models suitable for the implementation of good practices to move the necessary information to the end users.

In this perspective, to improve the understanding of and preparedness for geological disasters, the existing monitoring capabilities in the Marmara region indicate a strong need for a European initiative.

MARsite plans to coordinate initiatives of important European partners focused on: the collection multidisciplinary data; their dissemination, interpretation and fusion to produce consistent theoretical and practical models; following good practices so as to provide the necessary information to end users; and updating seismic hazard and risk evaluations in the region, particularly in Istanbul.

To fulfil the requirements of the EC call, MARsite identifies a number of objectives that drive its implementation, the definition of the activities and the composition of the consortium. The MARsite strategic objectives are to :

  • Achieve long-term hazard monitoring and evaluation
  • Improve existing earthquake early-warning and rapid-response systems
  • Improve ground shaking and displacement modelling
  • Pursue scientific and technical innovation
  • Interact with end users
  • Build on past and on-going European projects