- Open Access
The boulder berm of Punta Saguerra (Taranto, Italy): a morphological imprint of the Rossano Calabro tsunami of April 24, 1836?
© The Society of Geomagnetism and Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences (SGEPSS); The Seismological Society of Japan; The Volcanological Society of Japan; The Geodetic Society of Japan; The Japanese Society for Planetary Sciences; TERRAPUB. 2012
- Received: 2 November 2010
- Accepted: 24 August 2011
- Published: 24 October 2012
An extended berm of calcarenitic boulders is recognisable at Punta Saguerra, few kilometres south of Taranto (Apulia, Italy) while isolated boulders are sparse in other near localities. The berm is at 2–5 m above present sea level (a.p.s.l), on a rocky headland gently sloping toward the sea; it is separated from the coastline by a large terrace. A detailed study of its stratigraphy and its morphology has been performed in order to define its depositional mechanism; in particular, integrated DGPS and Laser Scanner surveys have provided precise details of each boulder: position, size and distance from the shoreline. The accumulation is constitute of boulders up to 30 tons, which locally are arranged in rows of embricated patterns. The surfaces of the biggest boulders are characterised by biogenic encrustations and by solution potholes that indicate their intertidal/adlittoral/spray zone provenience. Based on direct observations of each boulder (size, shape, weight and long axis azimuth), together with hydrodynamic equations it is possible to hypothesize the extreme event—geodynamic or meteorological— which was responsible for this singular accumulation. AMS age determinations on Vermetid sp. sampled on boulder surfaces and chronicle suggest that the accumulation may be attributed to the tsunami generated by the strong earthquake that occurred on April 24, 1836, the epicentre of which has been localised near Rossano Calabro, along the Ionian coast of northern Calabria.
- Boulder berm
- rocky coast
Many authors have described the presence of mega-boulders along coasts around the world as one of the main evidence of the impact of catastrophic waves of either geological (tsunami) or meteorological (hurricanes, storms) origin (for instance: Hearty, 1997; Mastronuzzi and Sanso, 2000, 2004; Scheffers, 2002, 2004; Noormets et al., 2004; Williams and Hall, 2004; Kelletat et al., 2005; Hall et al., 2006; Goto et al., 2007, 2010). At present, the diatribe about the individuation of the type of mechanism responsible for their placement is still open. Recent surveys performed some days after the occurrence of the Sunda tsunami on December 26, 2004 recognized that at Pakarang Cape, Thailand, the inland scattering of mega-boulders had resulted from this tsunami (Goto et al., 2007). On the other hand, the affirmation that the presence of mega-boulders along the coasts is always evidence of a tsunami impact is a matter of debate (for instance: Moore and Moore, 1984; Bryant and Young, 1996; Hearty, 1997; Felton et al., 2000; Mastronuzzi et al., 2006; Switzer and Burston, 2010). Nevertheless, the local morpho-bathymetry, litho-structural features and the local wave climate, all together condition the effect of a wave impact, whatever its generating mechanism may be. Different coastal areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans are characterized by impacting “normal” storm waves some ten meters high able to move boulders (Moberly and Chamberlain, 1964; Dollar, 1982; Dollar and Tribble, 1993; Williams and Hall, 2004; Hall et al., 2006; Holliday et al., 2006; Hansom et al., 2008). A recent survey highlights that, locally, a tsunami can also be characterized by a wave some ten meters high, but this is not the normality (Lavigne et al., 2006); more frequent is the possibility that an impacting wave can run inland, rising along the coastal slope and defining a run-up of some ten meters. On the other hand, a tsunami is characterized by an impressive energy connected not only to the wave height but also to the wave period and its length; the possibility to release energy corresponds to its capability to pickup in charge while transporting a large quantity of heterometric material as the March 11, 2011 Japanese tsunami shown to all the world.
On the other hand, along the eastern part of the Adriatic Sea, the front of the Dinarides, Albanides and Hellenides chains runs about parallel to the coastline crossed by main faults. The highly seismic Kephalonia right-lateral strike-slip fault represents the limit between the Euroasian and the Aegean-Asian plates (Pondrelli et al., 2002). The seismic activity along this structural alignment is probably responsible for the seismic sequence of 1743 that generated the tsunami whose deposits have been recognised along the southernmost part of Apulia (Mastronuzzi et al., 2007a). Hence, this region is surrounded by seismically active zones characterized by a high potential for generating submarine earthquakes and consequently large tsunamis, especially in the near shore zone. Furthermore, the Mediterranean Basin is very narrow and, if generated, a tsunami can rapidly reach every coast, thus causing catastrophic effects on a local scale (Mastronuzzi et al., 2006).
Just the Calabria region shows a narrow continental shelf with a steep mountain chain which dips directly into the sea. Seismic activity that characterized the Calabrian Arc and the Apenninic chain is a favourable condition to determine landslides possibly falling into the deep area of the surrounding seas. Based on the surveys of several important submarine landslides along the Calabrian continental slope (Colizza et al., 2005) it was hypothesized that they could be also a consequence of the seismic sequence that occurred inland between the end of 1456 and the beginning of 1457. This last event generated the tsunami to which is attributed the accumulation of the boulders immediately north of the city of Gallipoli (Mastronuzzi and Sansò, 2000). Moreover, in the past, along the Tyrrenian side of Calabria, the sequence of five earthquakes that occurred in 1783, between February 1 and March 28, triggered a large landslide at the top of Monte Paci; its collapse in to the sea generated the large tsunami that on February 6 destroyed the city of Scilla, killing about 1,500 people. Large landslides have also occurred along the north African coasts as reported by Cita and Aloisi (2000).
The entire coastal area south of Taranto is characterized by a number of marine terraces in staircase-like arrangement between elevations of about 400 m and the mean sea level (m.s.l.). This is the result of the superimposition of regional uplift and of the glacio-eustatic sea level changes that have occurred from the Middle Pleistocene to the present. The Middle-Late Pleistocene stratigraphic sequence crops out along the coast; it can be synthetically represented by silty clay Plio-Pleistocene in age, capped with well-cemented transgressive algal calcarenites, sometimes in partial overlapping, ascribed to the Upper Pleistocene (Belluomini et al., 2002 and references therein). Generally, at large scale, the coast has a linear pattern; however, the area is marked by deep inlets, limited by a more or less extended cape, that correspond to continental water inter-stratal incisions filled by the sea during the Holocene transgression (Mastronuzzi and Sansò, 1998; Lambeck et al., 2004). Along the microtidal coast of this area (tides never exceeding 0.70 m) the sea level is still in rising with a rate of 0.5–1.0 mm/year as suggested by archaeological markers (Auriemma et al., 2004).
The lowermost marine terrace is constituted by well-cemented bio-algal calcarenite marked by the presence of abundant mollusc, briozoa and coral, attributed to the last interglacial time (= LIT) MIS 5; the textural features correspond to a specific weight determined in the laboratory ranging from 2.20–2.35 g/m3. The calcarenitic local bedrock presents very long fractures that become wider toward the coastline. Several of these fractures are parallel to the shoreline; some of these are also oriented SSW-NNE, about orthogonal to the most frequent sea-storm impact direction. Generally, they have been correlated to the recent tectonic history responsible for the general tilting of the MIS 5 terraces from NNW to SSE, placed at about 20 m near Taranto and the approximate sea level near Gallipoli (Di Bucci et al., 2009, 2011). All the same, it is possible that the fractures near the coastline have been determined— or enlarged—by the continuous impact of the “normal” storm waves.
Frequently, boulders isolated or arranged in fields, are sparse both along the coast and in correspondence to the main capes. The most famous has been recognised approximately 60 km from Taranto in the Torre Squillace locality, near Gallipoli; thanks to 14C age determinations and historic chronicles, its put in place has been attributed to the impact of a catastrophic wave that was arose on December 5, 1456 by a large submarine landslide generated by the strong seismic sequence that hit the entire south of Italy (Mastronuzzi and Sansò, 2000). Just, 20 km south of Taranto, in correspondence to the prominent Punta Saguerra, there is another large boulder accumulation arranged in a berm.
3.1 Punta Saguerra boulder berm
ì—The first zone has a convex profile bordered seaward by a trottoir (approx. 3 m wide) that marks the biological sea level and is bare of vegetation. In the spray zone, the surf bench is marked by small coalescent karstic potholes, giving place to pinnacle-like forms (spitzkarren) separated inward by gradually widening flat depressions. Some boulders from this articulated surface have been carved out and scattered inland; in fact, small isolated boulders placed in this zone are often not in equilibrium or imbricated in formed because of karstic processes. groups.
Features of more representative boulders from Punta Saguerra; they have been chosen in function of their weight, a-axis orientation, elevation and distance from the coastline. The last two columns contain the calculated minimum heights of the storm wave and of the tsunami necessary to move boulders inland. The heights were obtained by applying the Pignatelli et al. (2009) equation starting from the boulder sizes.
Storm wave height (m)
Tsunami height (m)
Q s = 2.2 g/cm3
ììì—The third zone is a steeper terrace placed between 6 and 11 m a.b.s.l.; its external area is marked with discontinuous vegetative cover while the inner area is covered by soil with continuous halophyte vegetation.
3.2 Digital surveys
The 3D view of the landscape derive by the combination of some scansions overlapped in a post processing phase using Cyclone 6.03 software, that produce a unique 3D Modelspace. This is possible since at least five targets are positioned to be captured by at least three scansions; the position of each of them were surveyed with a GPS Leica 1230 in differential modality in Real Time Kinematic (RTK) synchronization, using the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) of Apulia region.
3.3 Age determinations
AMS radiocarbon age determinations of some samples collected at Punta Saguerra. The calibrated ages were obtained by using Calib 6.0 software (Stuiver and Reimer, 2010).
Baia d’Argento LTL1178A
121 ± 60
121 ± 60
Baia d’Argento LTL1179A
121 ± 60
121 ± 60
121 ± 60
Baia d’Argento LTL2209A
121 ± 60
121 ± 60
The meteorological stations placed along the coast of the Gulf of Taranto—Capo Colonne near Crotone and Capo San Vito near Taranto—indicate that the main sea storms come from the N-NE and the S-SE: the first station shows that gales occur especially in winter and have an average duration of approximately 40 hours; the latter station primarily measuring sea storms concentrated in the month of January, register a S-SSE wind direction with a duration of approximately 35 hours. The meteorological station located in southern Apulia (Capo Santa Maria di Leuca) registered important sea storms coming from the S-SW in October and January with the most limited fetch sector and a duration of approximately 28 hours.
The boulder spatial distribution seems to indicate a substantial correspondence between the a-axis orientation and the direction of the main storms. An important part of the boulders has its main axis E-W and NE-SW oriented, so orthogonal to the approaching direction of the main waves coming from S or SE; on the other hand, many boulders have their a-axis NW-SE or N-S oriented (Fig. 6). The correspondence between a-axis orientation and the approaching direction of main wave is only apparent; in fact, since their physical features, these last were refracted due its interaction with the continental shelf and hit the coast from SW (Mastronuzzi and Sansò, 1998).
Starting from the hydrodynamic equations suggested by Pignatelli et al. (2009) for tsunami and storm wave approaches, and applying these formulas to the biggest boulder recognizable in the ridge, it is possible to characterize the minimum wave able to move it landward (Table 1). Accordingly, to initiate the transport of a 30-ton boulder, about polyhedric in shape and characterised by a c-axis of 1.20 m, a minimum storm wave of about 16.18 m high or a tsunami of about 4.04 m high was necessary. A storm wave with such characteristics is very unlikely in the Gulf of Taranto. In fact, here, the Crotone buoy, activated by RON and RMN (Rete Mareografica Nazionale), has indicated the maximum storm wave recorded in deep sea to be 6.2 m high. Moreover, by applying the Gumbel treatment to available recorded data (from 1989 to 2001), a return time of 50 years for a maximum wave height of 7.01 m is obtained (Fig. 9). Important indications come from the analysis of the bathymetry just in front of the promontory—about −5 m—and of the bottom slope. Experimental studies have demonstrated that waves break at different distances from the coastline in function of the ratio between the impacting wave height (Hb) and the water depth (Wd); this ratio is an estimated average of 0.71–0.78 (Keulegan and Patterson, 1940) in the case of a generic bottom. Experimental data indicate a value of approximately 0.44–0.6 for a horizontal bottom or, in the case of a steeper bottom, 0.78–1.03 (Massel, 1997; Galvin, 1972). Therefore, considering that the sea bottom in front of Punta Saguerra is characterised by a mean slope of about 6%, it is necessary to apply the first ratio of 0.71–0.78; a storm wave of about 16.18 m high has the breaking point at a water depth of about 21–23 m, thus 350–400 m from the coastline. Due to this distance, it would be difficult to affirm that the broken wave responsible for the detachment and transport of a 30-tons boulder could be this sea storm wave, never registered in this area. Moreover, a normal wave, like those registered by RON, collapse at a Wd = 9–10 m, about 60–70 m from the coastline. Along this tract, its energy is influenced by the roughness of the sea-bottom dissipating by the time it reaches the coastline, unable to scatter 30-tons boulders 30 m inland. Besides, the distribution of some boulders along the a-axis azimuth of the Punta Saguerra berm correspond to the approaching directions of the wave trains generated by known sea storms (Fig. 6); this seems to indicate a mixed depositional origin (sea-storm and tsunami) of the boulders, but this can only be considered reliable for boulders whose weights are lower than 1.5–2.5 tons (Mastronuzzi et al., 2006). It should be noted that some strong storms have occurred in the last five years. They are considered to be among the strongest to have ever occurred but never characterised by waves higher than 6 m (www.idromare.it); the connected waves moved boulders that were never heavier than 1.0 tons and only transported to the supratidal area. Therefore, more probable is the height of 4.04 m that was estimated using the morphological features of the biggest boulder for the possible impacting tsunami; it justifies the detachment, the transport and the accumulation of an entire ridge at about 35 m from the coastline. In fact considering an impacting tsunami about 4 m high, and applying the Pigantelli et al. (2009) formula, the maximum inland flooding is comparable to the trimline extension. Presently, the surface at Punta Saguerra is smooth and without soil or vegetation; this could be attributed to a wave impact having caused the erosion of a previously soil. The presence of erosional forms is an indication of a huge wave that impacted the coast promontory with a high-energy flow; these types of forms have been observed and attributed to the effect of tsunamis because of their flooding plastic flow (water + debris) that could shape the bedrock even at a distance from the coastline.
Tsunami events generated in the Taranto Gulf and in the nearby Ionian Sea in the 1801–1951 period (from CPTI, 2004; Tinti et al., 2004).
Crosia, Marina di S., Angelo,
Calopezzati Marina, Rossano,
Golfo di Taranto
On the contrary, the impact of the Rossano Calabro earthquake is well-documented along the coast of Calabria; in particular eyewitness accounts clearly indicate that the tsunami flooding the Rossano coastal area arrived 80 steeps inland, corresponding to about 70 m (Romano, 1836; Rossi, 1836, 1837; De Rosis, 1838). De Rosis (1838) reports the words of the chief fishermen Antonio Florio from Amalfi: “… verso le ore sei (a.m., April, 24) mi recai colla ciurma al mio seguito sulla spiaggia … fummo improvvisamente scossi da forte tremuoto … in questo mentre il mare si al-lontanò di molti passi e continuando la terra a muoversi, ci affrettammo tutti sbigottiti di ritornare al pagliaro, ove giunti tutti attoniti osservammo che il mare, spinto da fiera tempesta, alzò le sue onde con tanta veemenza che giunsero sino al pagliaro: nel ritirarsi portò seco sette nostre barche, facendole urtare tra di loro in modo che rimasero danneggiate: continuò la forte agitazione del mare per piu` tempo, indi gradatamente si ritirò alla sua sponda, ma sempre fremente, per cui non andammo alla pesca neppure il dì seguente: la mattina ritrovammo nel litorale sbalzati dal mare molti pesci … ” (“… around 6 am, April 24, I reached the shore with my crew … we suddenly felt a tremor of a strong earthquake … while the sea withdrew several steps, the land continued to move. Startled, we rushed toward the haystack, we watched in astonishment as the proud tempest instigated the rising of waves with such vehemence that they reached the haystack. As the sea withdrew, it took with it seven of our boats, hurtling them against one another so much so as to damage them. The turbulence continued for a while, then gradually the sea withdrew to its bottom; still quivering, we did not even go fishing the next day. The next morning we found fishes strewn along the coast … ”).
Moreover, the same witness indicates changes also in sea bathymetry as suggested by the impossibility to use the sciabaca, a fishing instrument: “… tentammo di buttare la sciabaca nel solito luogo, ma con sorpresa scoprimmo, che quel tratto di fondo di mare, ove abbiamo fatto sempre la pesca, e da noi per tanti anni scandagliata la profondità di venti passi d’acqua, si è talmente inalzata con monti di Duna, Cotone o siano Albajone, che in oggi non se ne misurano che quattro … ”. (“… we attempted to throw the sciabaca in the waters where we always fished, but surprisingly, we discovered that the sea bottom, that previously had had a depth of 20 steps had now shallowed to 4 steps due to mounts of Dune, Cotone or Albajone …). Considering the present geomorphological features of the Rossano coast, marked by the presence of a pebble beach that continues below the sea level 5–10 m, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the back-wash flow accumulated a large quantity of sediment in the submerged beach, generating an extended submerged bar. Another description reported by De Rosis is that from the chief fisherman Antonio Apicella from Ma-juri: “La sera del 24 aprile il mare si ritrovava in bonaccia, talchè lasciai le mie barche tirate a poca distanza dal lido.
Verso le due della notte, che colla mia ciurma riposavamo nel pagliaio, due marinai ch’erano ancora all’erta, vennero ad avvertirmi di avere inteso un rombo, e d’essere infocata l’aria dal lato di levante, chiedendomi se volevo, che le barche fossero tirate piü in giü, ma siccome mi dissero, che non vi era vento ed il mare in calma, gli risposi d’essere inutile tal fatica, mentre da lì a poche ore saremmo andati a pesca. Presi tutti dal sonno, fummo risvegliati da un forte scotimento della terra, che per il moto di compressione si alzava, or si abbassava da i nostri piedi: intesi che l’onde frangevano, e nell’atto che la terra tremava corsi di unito alla ciurma verso le barche per salvarle, ma non potei tanto eseguire perché il mare l’aveva poste a galla: in questo mentre mi si abbassò il suolo, ed il mare mi giunse sino al petto sollevandomi con impeto, talchè fui obbligato di unità a molti miei marinai di porci a nuoto e fummo slanciati dal mare sino alla pagliaia, distante dal lido piü di ottanta passi … ” (“On the evening of April 24, the sea was dead calm, so much so that I left my boats tied close to the shore. Around 2 am, while my crew and I rested in the haystack, two sailors who had been keeping watch came to give notice of a rumble they had heard and that the air to the east had turned fiery. They asked me if I wanted to pull the boats in. But since they said there was no wind and that the sea was calm, I told them to save the hassle and that, in a few hours we’d be heading out to fish. Having then fallen deep asleep, we were woken by a strong shaking of the ground and for the motion of the earth’s compression, the ground started to rise and fall below our feet. Understanding now that the waves were crashing and the earth quaking, we ran toward the boats to save them but to no avail, for the sea had taken them afloat. Meanwhile, the ground beneath me lowered and the sea reached my chest raising me impetuously. I was obliged to unite with most of my sailors and took to swimming, we were hurled from the sea to the haystacks for a distance of 80 steps.” ).
Unfortunately, the event is not as well-documented on the eastern coast of Ionian sea as it is on the western coast. The only available testimoniance is found in the chronicle written by Baffi (1929), almost a century later: “… dopo una primavera molto piovosa ed un’orribile tempesta accaduta il 17 aprile 1836 nel golfo tarentino seguirono pochi giorni sereni fino al 24 Aprile 1836 … Verso mezzanotte dell’istesso giorno gli animali mostrarono soverchia inquietudine, il mare divenne grosso e tempestoso e sopra di esso fa’ vista una meteora di color fuoco, in quel punto accompagnato da cupo rumore un terremoto durò 20 secondi e dopo 3 minuti replicò violentemente … ” (“… after a wet spring season, and a terrible tempest on April 17, 1836, a few calm days followed in the Gulf of Taranto, but only til April 24. … Around midnight of that day, the animals began to show excessive inquietude. The sea grew big and tempestuous and above it, the sky had a fiery glow, then came a dark noise and a quake lasting 20 seconds. Three minutes later another violent tremor followed … ”). In comparison to the eyewitness reports presented in the local chronicles, it seems that those of Baffi (1929) have been derived and not true to the descriptions given by the local inhabitants. Therefore, there is no direct testimony that can prove the impact of the 1836 tsunami on the Ionian Apulia. On the other hand, to distinguish between the 1836 and the 1832 events, effectively very close in the time, is quite hard. The calibrated 14C age yielded by the AMS analyses has a range much too extended to allow us to distinguish between the two events in a large gaussian distribution. In effect, if the directions of both approaching waves are reconstructed to come from the WSW-ESE and both epicentres of the earthquakes are placed ESE of Punta Saguerra, it is true that the localisation of the 1832 epicentre with respect to the Punta Saguerra locality is protected by the Crotone peninsula (Fig. 13) and more distant than the 1836 event. These considerations would also exclude the possibility that the tsunami that hit Punta Saguerra was generated by the Capo Bruzzano earthquake. Finally, the 1836 tsunami was stronger (measuring 4 on the tsunami intensity scale) than the 1832 and 1907 ones (3 on the tsunami intensity scale). Recent seismic registration performed by the seismic observatory at the University “Aldo Moro” in Bari evidenced moderate seismic activity with an epicentre in the sea bottom not far from the Salento coast—like the sequence that occurred near Gallipoli on May 7, 1983 (M = 5.3) and along the coast of Calabria—like that of April 17, 2002 near Rossano (M = 4.7) (Fig. 2(B)).
By comparing all the data gathered from geomorpholog-ical, topographic and geochronological surveys completed by hydrodynamics considerations and historical chronicles, it is possible to obtain important conclusions about the boulders recognised in Punta Saguerra. The Punta Saguerra berm is composed of some tens of mega-boulders weighing up to 30 tons. Generally, the boulders come from the adlittoral/infralittoral/sublittoral zones. The presence of the boulders is associated with the presence of trimline and sichelwanne—s forms. The size of the boulders and other morphological features seem compatible with a possible impact from one or more tsunamis, since the impact of a storm normally occurring in this area, however exceptional, would have been less energetic and thus unable to scatter boulders inland from the sublittoral zone. Some of them preserve biological concrections whose age has been obtained from AMS analyses. Unfortunately, the results from the analyses do not offer a clear distinction between the two seismic-generated tsunami events of 1832 and 1836, having occurred so close in time. Based on the available chronicles, the events responsible for the formation of the berm can easily be attributed to the impact of a tsunami able to flood the Rossano coast and suggests the impact of an exceptional wave along the Ionian coast of Apulia.
Reassuming and considering all the data available, it is more possible that the boulder ridge was put in place by only one tsunami event generated by the earthquakes occurring on April 24, 1836 near Rossano in Calabria. It is also possible that this strong event erased pre-existent evidence correlated to the 1832 earthquake. The final conclusion regards the erosional forms: phenomena of trimline generation are well evident at the base of the ridge where rounded smooth-surfaces deriving from covered karstic phenomena are recognisable. Unfortunately, it is not possible to evaluate if the stripping can be correlated to the 1832, or less probably to the 1907 event, or whether it was due to the more energetic 1836 event. The presence of s-shaped forms indicate that the event responsible for all these erosional landforms was quite energetic and, so, the attribution of the biggest feature of the present Punta Saguerra landscape to the April 24, 1836 tsunami is realistic.
The authors sincerely thank Dr. Osamu Fujiwara and the other anonymous reviewer for helpful corrections and valuable comments on the manuscript. We would also like to thank Dr. Ladan Doroudian for the improvement of the English form. This research has been financially supported by the Project S1 2007/09 “Analysis of the seismic potential in Italy for the evaluation of the seismic hazard” dell’Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia—Dipartimento Protezione Civile (Responsabili del Progetto: Salvatore Barba, Carlo Doglioni; Resp. UOL Bari Prof. G. Mastronuzzi) and by Research Project Bari University 2009 “Modellizzazione e valutazione del rischio costiero da eventi parossistici” (Resp. Prof. G. Mastronuzzi). The authors would like to thank Prof. Paolo Sansò, Universitaà del Salento, Lecce, Italy, for the useful discussions. The paper is an Italian contribution to IGCP Project n° 495 “Quaternary Land-Ocean Interactions: Driving Mechanisms and Coastal Responses”. (Project Leaders: Dr. A. Long, University of Durham, UK, and Dr. S. Islam, University of Chittangong, Bangladesh).
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