Earth, Planets and Space

, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 9–18 | Cite as

The problem of seismic potential assessment: Case study of the unexpected earthquake of 7 September 1999 in Athens, Greece

  • Gerassimos A. Papadopoulos
  • Athanassios Ganas
  • Spyros Pavlides
Open Access


Lessons learned form the disastrous earthquake (M W = 5.9) that hit the metropolitan area of Athens, Greece, on 7 September 1999, are examined particularly as for the seismic potential considered before the earthquake occurrence. A general belief was created in the past decades that the seismic potential in Athens was very low. Fault plane solutions of the 1999 shock indicate that it was associated with a normal fault trending WNW-ESE and dipping to SW. Field geological observations conducted after the event in the Fili neotectonic fault, situated at 15–20 km to the north of Athens, imply that it has possibly been the seismogenic structure of the main rupture, and that it reactivated in very recent geological times. Archaeoseismological observations performed in the ancient Fili Fort, revealed repaired structural damage that was very likely caused by an earthquake occurring in palaeochristianic or Byzantine times. From a new catalogue of historical earthquakes it results that the main events of 1705, 1805 and 1889 could be tentatively located within a distance of ∼30 km from Athens although the little macroseismic information available makes their locations quite uncertain. During the instrumental period of observation, only few small shocks were recorded in the Athens region. It is obvious that should a research effort had been undertaken before the 1999 earthquake, certainly it would be concluded that at least one strong earthquake took place in historical times in the broad region affected in 1999, and that the Fili fault is active and is capable to produce strong shocks in the future. However, such a study was never conducted by the scientific community beforehand.


Strong Earthquake Main Shock Fili Fault Earthquake Occurrence Gross National Product 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ambraseys, N. N., Material for the investigation of the seismicity of Central Greece, in Historical Investigation of the Seismicity of European Earthquakes, vol. 2, edited by P. Albini and A. Moroni, pp. 1–10, 1994.Google Scholar
  2. Ambraseys, N. N. and C. Finkel, Material for the investigation of the seismicity of the Eastern Mediterranean region during the period 1690–1710, in Historical Investigation of European Earthquakes, vol. 1, edited by M. Stucchi, pp. 173–194, 1993.Google Scholar
  3. Ambraseys, N. N. and C. Finkel, Unpublished Ottoman archival information on the seismicity of the Balkans during the period 1500–1800, in Natural Disasters in the Ottoman Empire, Institute for Mediterranean studies, Halcyon Days in Crete III, A Symposium held in Rethymnon, 10–12 January 1997, pp. 89–107, Crete University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  4. Ambraseys, N. N. and J. A. Jackson, Seismicity and associated strain of central Greece between 1890 and 1988, Geophys. J. Int., 101, 663–708, 1990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ambraseys, N. N. and J. A. Jackson, Seismicity and strain in the Gulf of Corinth (Greece) since 1694, J. Earthq. Eng., 1, 433–474, 1997.Google Scholar
  6. Anonymous a, Book of the earthquakes observed in Greece in the time interval 1893–1901, Insitute of Geodynamics, National Observatory of Athens, 181 pp. (Manuscript in Greek).Google Scholar
  7. Anonymous b, Book of the earthquakes in Greece in the time interval 1902–1915, Institute of Geodynamics, National Observatory of Athens, 399 pp. (Manuscript in Greek).Google Scholar
  8. Coburn, A. and R. Spence, Earthquake Protection, John Wiley, England, pp. 355, 1992.Google Scholar
  9. Comninakis, P. E. and B. C. Papazachos, A catalogue of earthquakes in Greece and the surrounding area for the period 1901–1985, Univ. Thessaloniki Geophys. Lab. Publ., 1, 167, 1986.Google Scholar
  10. Cornell, C. A., Engineering seismic risk analysis, BSSA, 58, 1583–1606, 1968.Google Scholar
  11. Eginitis, D. (Publ.), Annales de l’Observatoire National d’Athènes, tome II, 346 pp., 1899.Google Scholar
  12. Fedotov, S. A., Regularities in the distribution of strong earthquakes in Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands and northeastern Japan, Akad. Nauk SSSR Inst. Fiziki Zeml: Trudy, 36, 66–93, 1965.Google Scholar
  13. Galanopoulos, A. G., Katalog der Erdbeben in Griechland für die zeit von 1879 bis 1892, Ann. Geol. Pays Hellen., 5, 144–229, 1953.Google Scholar
  14. Galanopoulos, A. G., The Seismic Geography of Greece, Ann. Geol. Pays Hellen., 6, 83–121, 1955 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  15. Galanopoulos, A. G., A catalogue of shocks with I oV I or M ≥ 5 for the years 1801–1958, Seismol. Lab. Univ. Athens, 1960.Google Scholar
  16. Galanopoulos, A. G., The earthquake potential of Greece, Ann. Geol. Pays Hellen., 30, 648–724, 1981 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  17. Ganse, R. A. and J. B. Nelson, Catalog of Significant Earthquakes, 2000 B.C.—1979, World Data Center A for Solid Earth Geophysics-NOAA, Report SE-27, 1979.Google Scholar
  18. Iida, K., Earthquake magnitude, fault and source dimensions, J. Earth Sci., 13, 115–132,1965.Google Scholar
  19. Jackson, J. A., J. Gagnepain, G. Houseman, G. C. P. King, P. Papadimitriou, C. Soufleris, and J. Virieux, Seismicity, normal faulting and the geomorphological development of the Gulf of Corinth (Greece): the Cotinth earthquakes of February and March 1981, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 57, 377–397, 1982.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kagan, Y. Y. and D. D. Jackson, Seismic gap hypothesis: Ten years after, J. Geophys. Res., 96, 21419–21431, 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Karnik, V., Seismicity of the European Area, Part II, 1801–1900, 218 pp., D. Reidel Publ. Comp. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kelleher, J., L. R. Sykes, and J. Oliver, Possible criteria for predicting earthquake locations and their application to major plate boundaries of the Pacific and the Caribbean, J. Geophys. Res., 78, 2547–2585, 1973.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Koustas, G., Earthquake of Corinth, Pandora, 15 August 1858, 225–229, 1858 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  24. Lambros, S. P., The earthquakes in Athens before 1821, Estia, 280, 289–291, 1881 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  25. McCann, W. R., S. P. Nishenko, L. R. Sykes, and J. Krause, Seismic gaps and plate tectonics: seismic potential for major boundaries, Pure and Applied Geophys., 117, 1082–1147, 1979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McGuire, R. K., Fortran computer program for seismic risk analysis, U.S.G.S. Open-File Rep. 76–67, 1978.Google Scholar
  27. McGuire, R. K., (Ed.), The practice of earthquake hazard assessment, IASPEI-ESC, 1–284, 1993.Google Scholar
  28. Mettos, A., Ch. Ioakim, and Th. Rondoyanni, Les Formations neogenes lacustres de l’Attique du Nord-Beotie: stratigraphie, palynologie et tectonique, Geologie Mediterraneenne, 12–13, 167–174, 1986.Google Scholar
  29. Mettos, A., Th. Rondoyanni, Ch. Ioakim, and I. Papadakis, Evolution geodynamique et reconstruction paleoenvironnementale des basins neogenes-quaternaires de la Grece centrale, Palaeontologia I Evolucio, 24–25, 393–402, 1992.Google Scholar
  30. Milne, J., Catalogue of destructive earthquakes. “Report of the 18th meeting of the British Association for the advancement of science, Portsmouth, 1911”, 649–740, London, 1912.Google Scholar
  31. Mogi, K., Some features of recent seismic activity in and near Japan (1), Bull. Earthq. Res. Inst., 46, 1225–1236, 1968.Google Scholar
  32. Montadon, Les tremblements de terre destructeurs en Europe, pp. 195, Geneve, 1953.Google Scholar
  33. Mougiaris, N. K., Seismic history of the Aegean area, Thesis, Univ. of Patras, 439 pp., 1994.Google Scholar
  34. Mourikis, M. D., The earthquakes in Greece from ancient time till now, 68 pp., Sarris Publ., Athens, 1934 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  35. Nishenko, S. P., Seismic potential for large and great interplate earthquakes along the Chilean and southern Peruvian margins of South America: A quantitative reappraisal, J. Geophys. Res., 90, 3589–3615, 1985.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nishenko, S. P., Earthquakes: Hazards and predictions, in The Encyclopedia of Solid Earth Geophysics, edited by D. E. James, pp. 260–268, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1989.Google Scholar
  37. Nishenko, S. P., Circum-Pacific seismic potential: 1989–1999, Pure Appl. Geophys., 135, 169–259, 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nishenko, S. P. and W. R. McCann, Seismic potential for the world’s major plate boundaries, in Earthquake Prediction: An International Review, Maurice Ewing Ser., 4, edited by D. W. Simpson and P. G. Richards, pp. 20–28, AGU, Washington, 1981.Google Scholar
  39. Nishenko, S. P. and L. R. Sykes, Comment on ‘Seismic gap hypothesis: Ten years after’ by Y. Y. Kagan and D. D. Jackson, J. Geophys. Res., 98, 9909–9916, 1993.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Papadimitriou, P., G. Kaviris, N. Voulgaris, I. Kassaras, N. Delibasis, and K. Makropoulos, The September 7, 1999 Athens earthquake sequence recorded by the Cornet network: preliminary results of source parameters determination of the main shock, Ann. Geol. Pays Hellen., 38, 29–39, 2000.Google Scholar
  41. Papadopoulos, G. A. and A. Arvanitides, Earthquake risk assessment in Greece, in Earthquake Hazard and Risk, edited by V. Schenk, pp. 221–229, Kluwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands, 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Papadopoulos, G. A., I. Baskoutas, G. Chouliaras, G. Drakatos, I. Kalogeras, V. Karastathis, M. Kourouzidis, I. Latoussakis, D. Makaris, N. Melis, G. Panopoulou, D. Papanastassiou, I. Pappis, S. Tassos, A. Plessa, and G. Stavrakakis, Seismological aspects of the Athens earthquake of 7th September, 1999: Preliminary results. 1st Conf. “Advances on Natural Hazards Mitigation-Experiences from Europe and Japan”, Programme, Abstractes, Reports, Athens 3–4 November, 1999, Santorini 5–7 November, 1999, 73–79.Google Scholar
  43. Papadopoulos, G. A., G. Drakatos, D. Papanastassiou, I. Kalogeras, and G. Stavrakakis, Preliminary results about the catastrophic earthquake of 7 September 1999 in Athens, Greece, Seismol. Res. Lett., 71, 318–329, 2000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Papadopoulos, G. A., G. Drakatos, D. Papanastassiou, I. Kalogeras, and G. Stavrakakis, Preliminary results about the catastrophic earthquake of 7 September 1999 in Athens, Greece: ERRATUM, Seismol. Res. Lett., 72, 73, 2001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Papazachos, B. C. and P. E. Comninakis, A catalogue of historical earthquakes in Greece and surrounding area: 479B.C.—1900A.D., Geophys. Lab. Univ. of Thessaloniki Publ., 5, 1–24, 1982.Google Scholar
  46. Papazachos, B. C. and K. Papazachou, The Earthquakes of Greece, 347 pp., Ziti, Thessaloniki, 1989 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  47. Papazachos, B. C. and C. B. Papazachou, The Earthquakes of Greece, 304 pp., Zitti Publ., Thessaloniki, 1997.Google Scholar
  48. Papazachos, B. C., P. E. Comninakis, E. E. Papadimitriou, and E. M. Scordilis, Properties of the February–March 1981 seismic sequence in the Alkionides gulf of central Greece, Ann. Geophys., 2, 537–544, 1984.Google Scholar
  49. Pavlides, S., G. A. Papadopoulos, and A. Ganas, The 7th September, 1999 unexpected earthquake of Athens: Preliminary results on the seismotectonic environment. 1st Conf. “Advances on Natural Hazards Mitigation-Experiences from Europe and Japan”, Programme, Abstractes, Reports, Athens 3–4 November, 1999, Santorini 5–7 November, 1999, 80–85.Google Scholar
  50. Sampson, A., Cases of earthquakes at Mycenaean and Pre-Mycenaean Thebes, in Archaeoseismology, edited by S. Stiros and R. E. Jones, pp. 113–117, 1996.Google Scholar
  51. Schenk, Vl., Achievements and probable trends in seismic hazard assessment, Tectonophys., 167, 157–169, 1989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schmidt, J., A study about the Aeghion earthquake of 26 (14) December 1861, Athens, 52 pp., 1867 (Greek transl. of the German text). Schmidt, J., Studien über Erdbeben, 324 pp., Carl Scholtze, Leipzig, 1875.Google Scholar
  53. Schmidt, J., About earthquakes in Greece, Estia, 1, 119–122, 1876.Google Scholar
  54. Schmidt, J., Studien über Erdbeben, 360 pp., Carl Scholtze, Leipzig, 1879.Google Scholar
  55. Shebalin, N. V., V. Karnik, and D. Hadzievski, (Eds.), Catalogue of Earthquakes. Part II, prior to 1901. UNDP/UNESCO Survey of the Seismicity of the Balkan Region, Skopje, 1974.Google Scholar
  56. Sieberg, Erdbebengeographie, pp. 1202, Verlag von Gustav Fischer, Berlin, 1932.Google Scholar
  57. Slemmons, D. B., Faults and earthquake magnitude, in State-of-the-art for Assessing Earthquake Hazards in the United States, U.S. Army Eng. Waterways Exper. St. Mis. Pap. S-73-1, Rep. 6, 129 pp., 1977.Google Scholar
  58. Spyropoulos, P. J., Chronicle of the earthquakes in Greece from the ancient time till now, 453 pp., 1997 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  59. Taymaz, T., J. Jackson, and D. McKenzie, Active tectonics of the north and central Aegean Sea, Geophys. J. Int., 106, 433–490, 1991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tiedemann, H., Catalogue of Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions, Swiss Re, Zurich, 94 pp., 1991.Google Scholar
  61. Tigarakis, G., The large earthquakes in Corinthia since ancient times, Deltio tou Syllogou Politikon Mihanikon Ellados, 182, 44–49, 1987 (in Greek).Google Scholar
  62. Wallace, R. E., J. F. Davis, and K. C. McNally, Terms for expressing earthquake potential, prediction, and probability, Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 74, 1819–1825, 1984.Google Scholar
  63. Wesnousky, S. G., C. H. Scholz, K. Shimazaki, and T. Matsuda, Integration of geological and seismological data for the analysis of seismic hazard: a case study of Japan, Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 74, 687–708, 1984.Google Scholar
  64. Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities, Probabilities of large earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay region, California, U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1053, 51 p., 1990.Google Scholar
  65. Wyss, M., Estimating maximum expected magnitude of earthquakes from fault dimension, Geology, 7, 336–340, 1979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© 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. 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerassimos A. Papadopoulos
    • 1
  • Athanassios Ganas
    • 1
  • Spyros Pavlides
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of GeodynamicsNational Observatory of AthensAthensGreece
  2. 2.Department of GeologyAristotelian University of ThessalonikiThessalonikiGreece

Personalised recommendations