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Po River

The quake that lifted the Po

Ancient map of the Po: in Ferrara, earthquakes in 1570 moved the riverbed 40 km north

OGSAncient map of the Po: in Ferrara, earthquakes in 1570 moved the riverbed 40 km northOGS

On November 17, 1570, an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale was recorded near the city of Ferrara, in northern Italy. The quake and its aftershocks were enough to divert the Po River – the longest in the country – and leave the city without water. Geologists Livio Sirovich and Franco Pettenati, from the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics, in Italy, combined historical data and modern modeling techniques to identify the source of the main tremor. They report that the quake started near a geological fault located approximately 14 kilometers northwest of Ferrara, a once-important cultural hub of the Renaissance Era that began to decline upon incorporation into the Papal States – today, Ferrara is an industrial city. The 1570 tremors were the final stage of the tectonic process that altered the course of the Po over many millenia. The geological fault that originated the quakes then – in addition to others that happened later – is located in the northern Apennines, the Italian mountain range that bisects the country from the southern Po Plain to the tip of the boot. The sequence of earthquakes in 1570 lifted the terrain of the southern Po Plain by 15 cm, shifting the riverbed 40 kilometers northward (Journal of Geophysical Research – Solid Earth, August 28, 2015) At the time, Pope Pius V allegedly claimed that God had sent the earthquake to punish the Duke of Ferrara, who had sheltered Jews and New Christians fleeing from Spain.