Tectonophysics and Geodynamics research group

Department of Mathematics, Informatics, and Geosciences

University of Trieste

Via Edoardo Weiss, 1 34128 Trieste (Italy)

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Research topics

Signal simulation for the Next Generation Gravity Missions requirements

Space-borne gravimetry is an unvaluable tool in monitoring mass distribution and mass transport in the Earth’s system. For example, a number of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) as defined by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) depend on sutained gravity field observations. Next Generation Gravity Missions are expected to continue this endeavour and to enhance our knowledge of mass processes, with a significant improvement in spatial and temporal resolution. New mission concepts are being investigated, such as the Mass-change And Geosciences International Constellation (MAGIC), a planned National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and European Space Agency (ESA) joint venture; the use of Quantum Space Gravimetry (aimed at improving the error budget with respect to classical electrostatic accelerometers); and the use of time measurements to sense potential differences. The Tectonophysics and Geodynamics research group is involved in the definition of user requirements: provided with the error estimates from the mission simulations, our tasks involve performing the detectability assessment for forward-modelleded geophysical signals, such as earthquakes (co- and post-seismic deformation), hydrology and glaciers, change in surface topography (such as regional subsidence), seamount eruptions. Therefore, one of our core activities is the definition of synthetic, real-event based, mass change models for these phenomena. This is followed by gravity forward modelling and the detectability analysis in its strict sense, for which we devised a spherical harmonics domain method.

Selected projects

  • 2022-ongoing: Quantum Space Gravimetry for monitoring Earth’s Mass Transport Processes (QSG4EMT)
  • 2021-2023: ESA Project MAGIC/Science, Simulation studies for a Mass change And Geosciences International Constellation
    • Daras I., March G., Pail R.,Hughes C. W., Braitenberg C., Güntner A., Eicker A., Wouters B., Heller-Kaikov B., Pivetta T., Pastorutti A. (2023). Mass-change And Geosciences International Constellation (MAGIC) expected impact on science and applications, Geophysical Journal International. doi:10.1093/gji/ggad472
    • NGGM Mission Requirements Document: Daras, I. (Ed), 2023, Next Generation Gravity Mission (NGGM) Mission Requirements Document, Issue 1.0, Earth and Mission Science Division, European Space Agency, doi:10.5270/ESA.NGGM-MRD.2023-09-v1.0
    • MAGIC/NGGM entry in the CEOS (Committee on Earth Observation Stallites) database: MAGIC/NGGM Satellite Mission Summary
  • 2020-2022: ASI MOCAST+ MOnitoring mass variations by Cold Atom Sensors and Time measures. MOCAST+ is a study funded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) with Call 2018. The study proposes an “enhanced” Cold Atom Interferometer (CAI) instrument consisting of a gravitational interferometry gradiometer with ultra-cold atoms, on which an optical frequency measurement using an ultra-stable laser is implemented, which also provides time measurements. This would lead to an improvement of the gravity model even at low harmonic degrees and its temporal variations, with advantages in the modeling of mass transport and its global variations: fundamental information e.g. in the study of the variations in the hydrological cycle and of the relative mass exchange between atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere and solid earth.
    • Pivetta, T., Braitenberg, C., Pastorutti, A. (2022.) Sensitivity to Mass Changes of Lakes, Subsurface Hydrology and Glaciers of the Quantum Technology Gravity Gradients and Time Observations of Satellite MOCAST+. Remote Sensing 14(17) 4278. doi:10.3390/rs14174278
    • Migliaccio, F., Reguzzoni, M., Rosi, G., Braitenberg, C., Tino, G. M., Sorrentino, F., Mottini, S., Rossi, L., Koç, Ö., Batsukh, K., Pivetta, T., Pastorutti, A., Zoffoli, S. (2023). The MOCAST+ Study on a Quantum Gradiometry Satellite Mission with Atomic Clocks. Surveys in Geophysics. doi:10.1007/s10712-022-09760-x
  • 2017-2018: ASI MOCASS Mass Observation with Cold Atom Sensors in Space proposal of a GOCE‐like quantum gravimetry mission. Payload: Cold Atom Interferometer (CAI) on board a satellite on low Earth orbit, observables: second derivatives of the geo‐potential (gradients).
    • Migliaccio, F., Reguzzoni, M., Batsukh, K., Tino, G. M., Rosi, G., Sorrentino, F., Braitenberg, C., Pivetta, T., Barbolla D. F., Zoffoli, S. (2019). MOCASS: A Satellite Mission Concept Using Cold Atom Interferometry for Measuring the Earth Gravity Field. Surveys in Geophysics, 40(5), 1029–1053. doi:10.1007/s10712-019-09566-4
    • Reguzzoni, M., Migliaccio, F., Batsukh, K. (2021). Gravity Field Recovery and Error Analysis for the MOCASS Mission Proposal Based on Cold Atom Interferometry. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 178(6), 2201–2222. doi:10.1007/s00024-021-02756-5
    • Pivetta, T., Braitenberg, C., Barbolla, D. F. (2021). Geophysical Challenges for Future Satellite Gravity Missions: Assessing the Impact of MOCASS Mission. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 178(6), 2223–2240. doi:10.1007/s00024-021-02774-3
  • 2013-2015: ESA GOCE User toolbox

  • defining science user needs for future satellite gravity observing system, IAG sub-commissions 2.3 and 2.6, under IUGG (2013-2015)
    • Pail, R., Bingham, R., Braitenberg, C., Dobslaw, H., Eicker, A., Güntner, A., Horwath, M., Ivins, E., Longuevergne, L., Panet, I., Wouters, B. (2015). Science and User Needs for Observing Global Mass Transport to Understand Global Change and to Benefit Society. Surveys in Geophysics, 36(6), 743–772. doi:10.1007/s10712-015-9348-9

Gravity, gravimetry and applications to exploration geophysics

We deal with the methodological and application aspects of 3-D modelling and inversion of gravity data. Different approaches are used, which include spectral methods in the flat- and spherical-domain, upward-downward continuation methods, iterative methods, direct modeling by simple geometric objects or polyhedral objects, data reduction (topography, sedimentary basins). Another topic of interest is the depth-of-source retrieval. Range of applications: from small superficial anomalies (e.g. caves) of prospecting and environmental interest to deep, extensive regional structure. Both terrestrial, shipborne and satellite derived gravity measurements are used and integrated with other observables.

Selected application examples

  • Integrated inverse geophysical models (potential fields, seismic tomography, petrology)
    • Maurizio, G., Braitenberg, C., Sampietro, D., & Capponi, M. (2023). A New Lithospheric Density and Magnetic Susceptibility Model of Iran, Starting From High‐Resolution Seismic Tomography. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 128(12). doi:10.1029/2023JB027383
    • Sampietro, D., Capponi, M., & Maurizio, G. (2022). 3D Bayesian Inversion of Potential Fields: The Quebec Oka Carbonatite Complex Case Study. Geosciences, 12(10), 382. doi:10.3390/geosciences12100382
    • Tadiello, D. and Braitenberg C. (2021). Gravity modeling of the Alpine lithosphere affected by magmatism based on seismic tomography, Solid Earth, 12, 539–561, doi:10.5194/se-12-539-2021
  • Joint regression analysis of topography and gravity, allowing clustering of the response to the lithosphere characteristics and aparametric residualization:
    • Pivetta, T., Braitenberg, C. (2020). Sensitivity of gravity and topography regressions to earth and planetary structures. Tectonophysics, 774, 228299. doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2019.228299
  • Mineral prospecting in metallogenic districts:
    • Hühn, S.R.B., Silva, A.M., Ferreira, F.J.F., Braitenberg, C. (2020). Mapping New IOCG Mineral Systems in Brazil: The Vale do Curaçá and Riacho do Pontal Copper Districts. Minerals 10, 1074. doi:10.3390/min10121074
  • Indirect geothermal estimates using a GOCE-derived crustal model and a lean thermal solver:
    • Pastorutti, A., Braitenberg, C. (2019). A geothermal application for GOCE satellite gravity data: modelling the crustal heat production and lithospheric temperature field in Central Europe. Geophysical Journal International, 219(2), 1008–1031. doi:10.1093/gji/ggz344
  • AlpArray: Gravity research group. Delivered a homogeneous gravity dataset across the Alpine area, of unprecedented quality and spatial coverage. Collection, management and processing of the Italy datasets (> 100000 on- and off-shore measurement).
    • Zahorec, P., Papčo, J., Pašteka, R., Bielik, M., Bonvalot, S., Braitenberg, C., Ebbing, J., Gabriel, G., Gosar, A., Grand, A., Götze, H.-J., Hetényi, G., Holzrichter, N., Kissling, E., Marti, U., Meurers, B., Mrlina, J., Nogová, E., Pastorutti, A., Salaun, C., Scarponi, M., Sebera, J., Seoane, L., Skiba, P., Szűcs, E., Varga, M. (2021). The first pan-Alpine surface-gravity database, a modern compilation that crosses frontiers. Earth System Science Data, 13(5), 2165–2209. doi:10.5194/essd-13-2165-2021

Transversal aspects

Mineral prospecting: social and economic issues. Cooperation with Prof. Simone Arnaldi (Department of Political and Social Sciences, UNITS) and Prof. Giuseppe Borruso (Department of Economics, Business, Mathematics and Statistics, UNITS).

Regional-scale geodynamics, thermal and rheological structure of the lithosphere

[topic description undergoing update]

Selected application examples

  • Natale Castillo, M. A., Tesauro, M., Cacace, M. (2022) How does seismic attenuation correlate to rheology of crustal rocks? Results from a numerical approach. Global and Planetary Change. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2022.103978
  • Maddaloni, F., Tesauro, M., Gerya, T. V., Pastorutti, A., Braitenberg, C., Delvaux, D., Munch, J. (2022). Effects of multi-extensional tectonics in a cratonic area: 3D numerical modeling and implications for the Congo Basin. Gondwana Research. doi:10.1016/j.gr.2022.09.002
  • Kaban, M. K., Delvaux, D., Maddaloni, F., Tesauro, M., Braitenberg, C., Petrunin, A. G., El Khrepy, S. (2021). Thickness of sediments in the Congo basin based on the analysis of decompensative gravity anomalies. Journal of African Earth Sciences, 179(February 2020), 104201. doi:10.1016/j.jafrearsci.2021.104201
  • Delvaux, D., Maddaloni, F., Tesauro, M., Braitenberg, C. (2021). The Congo Basin: Stratigraphy and subsurface structure defined by regional seismic reflection, refraction and well data. Global and Planetary Change, 198(December 2020), 103407. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2020.103407
  • Maddaloni, F., Pivetta, T., Braitenberg, C. (2021). Gravimetry and petrophysics for defining the intracratonic and rift basins of the western-central Africa zone. GEOPHYSICS, 86(6), 1–68. doi:10.1190/geo2019-0522.1

Hydrogeological studies with terrain and space geodesy

Subsurface water movement monitoring is a challenging task, dealing with complex drainage systems and the difficulty in sensing the involved obserables, with a reliable network of continuous observations. We are addressing this problem with gravimetry and space-borne Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, alongside traditional tilt- and strain-meter measurements and GNSS.

Spring and super-conducting gravimeters offer a proven complement to direct hydrologic measurements, enabling the characterization of karstic systems in which the recharge process causes accumulation of large water volumes in the voids of the epiphreatic system.

Differential Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (DInSAR) proves to be an excellent tool for measuring the crustal deformation in different circumstances, such as co-seismic deformation, landslides and subsidence. Different approaches are needed to retrieve this data, ranging from a single interferometric pair to big-data time serie analysis. Among the issues under investigation, the non-trivial task of atmospheric noise correction is being assessed, pursuing the recovery of signals smaller than the expected atmospheric noise and the identification of potentially misinterpreted artefacts.

One of our current core topics is the measurement of surface deformation triggered by overpressure of underground water in karst areas, occurring where caves and channels are filled as a consequence of sudden and heavy rainfall. It build upon our expertise in ground-based monitoring of deformations with tilt- and strain-meter networks, which alongside with GPS has already shown a huge potential in hydrogeological modelling.

Selected application examples

  • Pivetta, T., Braitenberg, C., Gabrovšek, F., Gabriel, G., and Meurers, B. (2021). Gravity as a tool to improve the hydrologic mass budget in karstic areas, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., doi:10.5194/hess-25-6001-2021
  • Braitenberg, C., Pivetta, T., Barbolla, D. F., Gabrovšek, F., Devoti, R., Nagy, I. (2019). Terrain uplift due to natural hydrologic overpressure in karstic conduits. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 1–10. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-38814-1

Crustal deformations and multi-decadal geodetical monitoring

The group has installed and maintains underground laboratories including the laboratories of Grotta Gigante on the Trieste Karst, the Grotte di Villanova (UD), and the laboratory in Cansiglio Plateau (TV). Instrumentations include one ultra broad-band horizontal pendulum, and tiltmeters and extensometers. Among the activities of the gorup belongs the instruments update and development, with support of collaborations of experts in electronics. The wealth of deformational data that is being collected provides an extraordinary insight on the anisotropies of the uppermost Earth’s crust in the area, on the signals from sudden underground flooding due to extreme rainfall, on years-long fluid diffusion transients due to peculiar fault behavior, and on the free oscillation arising from megathrust earthquakes. These multi-decadal time series provide ongoing measurements of tilt and crustal deformation, at an accuracy and precision which are much higher than space-borne geodesy, and are of support in recognizing the same signals at larger scale seen from space. The group has adopted GMTSAR as the preferred tool for the SAR processing, with the software running on the servers of the Department. Time series from Differential Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (DInSAR) are produced and modelled. Cloud computing is used for the processing of multispectral satellite image acquisitions, by exploitation of the Earth Engine infrastructure. More details on the underground labs are found here: geodetical monitoring network, includes extensive bibliography.

Recent application examples

  • Barbot, S., Luo, H., Wang, T., Hamiel, Y., Piatibratova, O., Javed, M.T., Braitenberg, C. and Gurbuz, G., 2023. Slip distribution of the February 6, 2023 Mw 7.8 and Mw 7.6, Kahramanmaraş, Turkey earthquake sequence in the East Anatolian Fault Zone. Seismica, 2(3). doi:10.26443/seismica.v2i3.502
  • Javed, M. T., Barbot, S., Javed, F., Ali, A., & Braitenberg, C. (2022). Coseismic folding during ramp failure at the front of the Sulaiman fold‐and‐thrust belt. Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1029/2022GL099953
  • Rossi, G., Pastorutti, A., Nagy, I., Braitenberg, C., Parolai, S. (2021). Recurrence of Fault Valve Behavior in a Continental Collision Area: Evidence From Tilt/Strain Measurements in Northern Adria. Frontiers in Earth Science, 9. doi:10.3389/feart.2021.641416
  • Grillo, B., Braitenberg, C., Nagy, I., Devoti, R., Zuliani, D., Fabris, P. (2019). Cansiglio Karst Plateau: 10 Years of Geodetic–Hydrological Observations in Seismically Active Northeast Italy (pp. 171–187). Pure and Applied Geophysics, Topical Volumes. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-96277-1_14