Terrestrial Laser Scanner techniques in the assessment of tsunami impact on the Maddalena peninsula (south-eastern Sicily, Italy)
© 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: 24 November 2010
Accepted: 7 November 2011
Published: 24 October 2012
The coastline of the Maddalena peninsula (south-eastern Sicily, Italy) is characterised by the occurrence of a boulder field associated to an extended soil stripping area and by a gravel/sandy berm. The accumulation of the boulders has been mostly correlated to the impact of the December 28, 1908 tsunami wave. The use of Terrestrial Laser Scanner survey techniques, associated to Differential Global Position System determinations, permits to obtain new data for the assessment of tsunami impact on this coastal area. The computing of the surveyed data using the most recent equations is a useful tool in order to estimate the theoretic inundation limit and to reconstruct its variability in function of the boulders size and of the coastal topography. Moreover, the entire new data set allows to confirm that the hypothesis of the tsunami impact is the most reasonable to explain the occurrence of boulders weighing up to 50 tons on the Maddalena peninsula.
One of the most impressive evidence of extreme wave impact on the rocky coasts is represented by the presence of mega-boulders, sparse or accumulated in field or berms (Mastronuzzi and Sansò, 2000, 2004; Williams and Hall, 2004; Hall et al., 2006, 2008; Scheffers and Scheffers, 2006; Mastronuzzi et al., 2007; Scicchitano et al., 2007; Goto et al., 2009a, b, 2010a). The post-event surveys performed after the impact of the Indian Ocean Tsunami (IOT), occurred on December 26, 2004, have permitted to recognise morphological/sedimentological effects of its impact and, in the same time, to extend all obtained results on coastal sectors where similar evidences were recognised (e.g. Szczuciski et al., 2005; Kelletat et al., 2006, 2007; Lavigne et al., 2006; Richmond et al., 2006; Paris et al., 2007, 2009, 2010; Srinivasalu et al., 2007; Umitsu et al., 2007). In particular, it has been demonstrated that frequently the wave flow has been able to detach and scatter inland boulders of significant size and weight (Goto et al., 2009a, b). Notwithstanding the immense number of data derived by the surveys performed all along the coast hit by the IOT, the debate about the correlation of these landforms/sediments with the extreme event responsible of their genesis/deposit is still open. In fact, since the absence of eyewitness, at present, no undisputable signatures allow to discriminate between the boulders accumulated by a sea storm from those accumulated by tsunami. The reply to this scientific question was the increase of the number of papers examining the nature of these landforms/sediments, focusing their attention on the wave forces necessary to detach, transport and deposit boulders of different size and weight (e.g. Nott, 1997, 2003; Noormets et al., 2004; Scheffers and Kelletat, 2005; Kelletat et al., 2006, 2007; Mastronuzzi et al., 2006; Scheffers, 2006, 2008; Goto et al., 2007, 2010b; Scicchitano et al., 2007; Imamura et al., 2008; Kelletat, 2008; Benner et al., 2010; Goff et al., 2010; Regnauld et al., 2010).
The occurrence of boulders eradicated from the infralit-toral/adlittoral zones is considered evidence of the past impact of extreme waves. Starting from the presence of boulders and from their size, some authors consider really possible to evaluate the features of the impacting waves. An important degree of uncertainty regards the methodology aiming to the definition of the origin of the wave responsible for their deposition. In the boulder accumulation process, is the impacting wave height more important compared to the wave length and to the wave period? Different theories have been proposed in the recent time, but the final reply is still far away (Nott, 2003; Goto et al., 2007, 2009b, 2010b; Hansom et al., 2008; Imamura et al., 2008; Pignatelli et al., 2009; Barbano et al., 2010). The more easy reply is that if a wave can be described by height, length and period, the best way to evaluate its impact on a rocky coast should consider these parameters all together.
2. Geological and Geomorphological Setting
South-eastern Sicily is one of the most seismically active areas of the central Mediterranean (Fig. 1(a)). It is characterized by thick Mesozoic to Quaternary carbonate sequences and volcanics forming the emerged foreland of the Siculo-Maghrebian thrust belt (Grasso and Lentini, 1982). This area, mostly constituted by the Hyblean Plateau, is located on the footwall of a large normal fault system which since the Middle Pleistocene has reactivated the Malta Escarpment (Hirn et al., 1997; Bianca et al., 1999), a Meso-zoic boundary separating the continental domain from the oceanic crust of the Ionian basin (Scandone et al., 1981; Sartori et al., 1991; Argnani and Bonazzi, 2005). Since the Middle Pleistocene, active faulting has contributed to continuous extensional deformation from eastern Sicily to western Calabria (Siculo-Calabrian Rift Zone, see inset in Fig. 1(a); Monaco and Tortorici, 2000; Jacques et al., 2001). In eastern Sicily the SSW-NNE striking normal faults are mostly located offshore and control the Ionian coast from Messina to the eastern lower slope of Mt. Etna, joining southwards to the NNW-SSE trending system of the Malta Escarpment. This area is marked by a high level of crustal seismicity producing earthquakes with MCS (Mercalli-Cancani-Sieberg) intensities of up to XI–XII and M ~ 7, such as the 1169, 1693 and 1908 events (Postpischl, 1985; Boschi et al., 1995). Several earthquake-generated tsunamis struck the Ionian coast of south-eastern Sicily in historical times (AD 1169, 1329, 1693, 1818, 1908, 1990; Tinti et al., 2004, 2007; Scicchitano et al., 2007; Smedile et al., 2011). According to most of published geological data and numerical modelling, the seismogenic source of these events should be located in the Messina Straits and in the Ionian offshore (the Malta Escarpment) between Catania and Siracusa (Baratta, 1910; Barbano and Cosentino, 1981; Carbone et al., 1982; Barbano, 1985; Lombardo, 1985; Postpischl, 1985; Ghisetti, 1992; Valensise and Pantosti, 1992; Piatanesi and Tinti, 1998; Bianca et al., 1999; Azzaro and Barbano, 2000; Monaco and Tortorici, 2000; Tinti and Armigliato, 2003). However it is important to consider that other source such as submarine landslides or volcanic eruption, could be responsible of the generation of tsunamis that struck the Ionian coast of south-eastern Sicily (Mastronuzzi, 2010).
Geomorphological evidences of extreme waves impact are present all along the coast of south-eastern Sicily between the town of Augusta and Capo Passero (Fig. 1(a)). Scicchitano et al. (2007) described boulder deposits related to tsunami and storm generated waves between Augusta and Siracusa (Fig. 1(b)). Hydrodynamic estimations and radiocarbon age determinations suggested that three distinct tsunami events (1169, 1693, 1908) were responsible for the deposition of the biggest isolated boulders and boulder fields. Along the coast of Vendicari, 40 km south of Siracusa (Fig. 1(a)), Barbano et al. (2010) discovered a boulder field and isolated boulders related to different tsunami events. Moreover, tsunami impact deposits related to the 1693 event and other tsunami and storm deposits were found preserved within a ria-type rocky coastal setting at the bottom of the channel harbour of Ognina, 20 km south of Siracusa (Scicchitano et al., 2010). Finally, De Martini et al. (2010) and Smedile et al. (2011) evidenced the occurrence of out of place coarse layers ascribed to distinct tsunami waves that invaded lagoon and marine environments near Augusta.
The boulder deposit described in this paper has been found near Siracusa, south-east Sicily (Fig. 1(b)), along the north-eastern corner of the Maddalena peninsula that bounds to the south the large natural harbour of the town.
3. Boulder Setting
In order to estimate the inland penetration limit of tsunami waves responsible for boulder deposition, our study has been focused on the three biggest boulders described in the area by Scicchitano et al. (2007), that are B3, B4 and B13 (Fig. 2) whose features indicate a joint bounded scenario JBS. TLS and DGPS techniques were used to survey both boulders and berm.
4. Hydrodynamic Equations
5. Material and Methods
The assessment of the inland penetration limit of tsunami waves using the Pignatelli et al. (2009) method implies the possibility of accurately measuring dimension, geometry and position of the main boulders recognised along studied coastal areas. Terrestrial Laser Scanner (TLS) techniques were used to perform accurate 3D reconstruction of the three biggest boulders located along the coastline of the Maddalena peninsula, whose accumulations have been ascribed to the impact of different large tsunami (Scicchitano et al., 2007).
Recent TLS technology is based on the reflectorless acquisition of a point cloud of the topography using the time-of-flight distance measurement of laser pulse (Slob and Hack, 2004). The scanner consists of a laser beam generator, a mirror rotating on its horizontal axis and forming a 45° degree angle with the beam direction and a servomotor which makes the instrument rotate around its vertical axis. This setting gives to the scanner a field view of 360° × 270°. The monochromatic and nearly parallel laser pulse is sent out in a precisely known direction. The scanner then records the back-scattered pulse. The time-of-flight of the signal is then converted into the distance between the scanner and the object; these two values are used to calculate Cartesian coordinates with reference to the centre of the scanner.
Mean parameters for the three boulders studied in the Maddalena peninsula: axis dimensions (a, b, c), Volume (V), Density (ρb), (Weight (W), Distance from the coast line (D), Tsunami wave height (Ht). In bracket are reported values estimated by Scicchitano et al. (2007) for the same boulders.
6. Data Analysis
Volumes calculated in the previous work appear to be overestimated with respect to values estimated by 3D model analyses, probably depending on having approximated the shape of the boulders to a parallelepiped. In fact, the use of TLS underlined that the classic method of boulder measurement tends to overestimate the three main axes and, as consequence, the weight of the boulder (see also Marsico et al., 2009). Since the Pignatelli et al. (2009) hydrodynamic equations are built around the c-axis value, this approximation induce an evident overestimation of the minimum wave height able to detach and scatter inland the boulders. Moreover, in the previous works an average value of the density (2.28 ton/m3) was considered for the boulders located in Maddalena peninsula, but new analyses furnished different values ranging between 1.98 ton/m3 and 2.33 ton/m3 also (Table 1).
Values of height of the cliff (hc), mean slope (α) and roughness (n) for each one of the 14 buffer in which the studied area has been divided (see Fig. 8).
The 3D model reconstruction of each analyzed boulder highlighted serious discrepancies with measures and estimation performed for the same boulders by Scicchitano et al. (2007) using an invar rod mechanical system. Previous measurements of the a-, b- axis of the boulders (Table 1) are overestimated up to 25% with respect to the values obtained from the 3D models (see boulder B3), whereas the c-axis results underestimated up to 50% (see boulders B3, B13).
Average values of the Manning number n estimated using the methodology of Arcement and Schneider (1989).
Manning number (n)
Lagoon, fluvial plain
Discontinuous dune belts (without vegetation)
Dune belts (Altitude = 3 m)
Rocky coasts (very karstifyed)
Urban area discontinuous
Urban area (with buildings very concentrated)
Forests, Pinewood, etc.
For the Maddalena peninsula, Scicchitano et al. (2007) estimated a maximum storm generated wave height between 9.31 m and 9.36 m, by applying the equation of Sunamura and Horikawa (1974) used to calculate the height of a wave at breaking point (Hb) starting from the height and the period of the same wave measured in deep water (Ho). Following this method, the wave heights at breaking point were calculated for the most severe storm generated wave registered by the ondametric buoy of Catania since 1989 (Ho1989 = 6.2 m; Hb1989 = 9.31 m) and for the most severe storm generated wave supposable for the area with a return period of 50 years (HoT50 = 6.24 m; HbT50 = 9.36 m) estimated by applying the Gumbel treatment to available recorded data (Inghilesi et al., 2000) (Fig. 8). Hs values calculated by the Nott (2003) and Pignatelli et al. (2009) methods appear to be in any case higher than these values, confirming the results proposed by Scicchitano et al. (2007) namely, that the boulders were transported inland by tsunami events.
Inland penetration limit calculated at Maddalena peninsula for boulders B3, B4 and B13.
Inland penetration limit (m)
205.13 210.47 (average)
81.36 91.09 (average)
82.90 92.19 (average)
Boulder B3 represents the biggest boulder located in Maddalena peninsula. Using the Pignatelli et al. (2009) method, a minimum tsunami height of 5.051 m (Table 4) is required to detach the boulder from the cliff top in a JB scenario partially submerged, as evidenced by the presence of the algal rim, and transport it inland. Considering this value, the inland penetration limit has been calculated for each buffer (Table 5) resulting in a max value of 223.67 m, a minimum value of 203.95 m and an average value of 210.47 m. Estimation for boulder B4 (Table 5) furnished a HT value a little bit lower with respect to that assessed for the boulder B3, reaching an height of 3.174 m, inland penetration limits ranging between a minimum value of 81.23 m and a maximum value of 103.16 m with an average value of 91.09 m. For the boulder B13 (Table 5), a HT of 3.566 m has been estimated; consequently, the minimum inland penetration limit is about 82.72 m, the maximum is about 104.78 m, the average value 92.19 m. Average inland penetration limit estimated for B4 and B13 appear to be in good agreement, suggesting that the two boulders could have been transported during the same event. This is confirmed by radiocarbon age determination performed by Scicchitano et al. (2007) on these boulders, yielding an age of 465±37 age (BP) for boulder B4 and 465±35 age (BP) for boulder B13 (not calibrated), that allowed to refer their accumulation to the December 28, 1908 tsunami.
the application of the most recent equations using the size and weight parameters of three boulders for the evaluation of the possible tsunami height responsible for their deposition suggested that two boulders have been moved by waves characterized by the same height while the third one seems to have been moved by a biggest wave;
the digital analysis of the local emerged and submerged topography compared to the available recorded and statistical data concerning the local wave climate allowed us to exclude the deposition of the boulders due to the impact of normal storm generated waves;
the use of the inundation formulas permitted to evaluate the minimum inland flooding of the events responsible for the boulders scattering, transport and deposition: in general a good agreement has been recognised since the value are included in a range of ±10 m, that is a reasonable value considering the variability of the topography and, as consequence, the differential decreasing of the inland running wave;
the use of DGPS permitted to verify that these estimated values correspond to the measured position of the inland limit of the strip soil and of the pebble/sandy berm.
The use of TLS and DGPS sensibly improved the accuracy of field measurements allowing a better estimation of the tsunami wave height and inland penetration limit.
In the case of the Maddalena peninsula, the results obtained elaborating the digitally surveyed data fit reasonably well, confirming the conclusions of our previous work that showed the evidence of the impact of the December 28, 1908 tsunami wave. However, some improvements are required in order to obtain experimental “in situ” real Manning”s number that can optimise the application of the flooding assessment formulas.
This research has been financially supported by INGV-DPC Project S1 2007/09 “Analysis of the seismic potential in Italy for the evaluation of the seismic hazard” (Nat. Resp.: S. Barba, C. Doglioni; Unit 6.03 Resp.: G. Mastronuzzi), by Research Project of Bari University 2009 “Modellizzazione e valutazione del rischio costiero da eventi parossistici” (Resp. Prof. G. Mastronuzzi) and by University of Catania funds (Resp. C. Monaco). Many thanks are due to C. Marziano for the important suggestions supported. We are grateful to the Marine Protected Area of Plemmirio for the aerial views they supplied us. The authors sincerely thank the two anonymous reviewers for helpful corrections and valuable comments on the manuscript.
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