Danger from Below – Europe’s Superquakes


Autumn 2016, tragedy strikes in north-central Italy. A series of four earthquakes cracks a mountain and flattens an historic town. As soon as the first quake strikes, scientists are fast on the scene to take real-time measurements in an unfolding geological drama. And so they catch the following earthquake in the act – a seismologist’s Holy Grail

This film uses the 2016 quakes to examine what it means to study earthquakes in Europe today. This densely populated continent is strewn with a muddle of overlapping and interfering geological activity that combines to create potentially hazardous situations.

Scientific challenge and public anxiety meet here. We’ll hear first-hand accounts from people who experienced the earthquakes and meet the scientists desperate to learn what they can. The goal? To one day be able to predict when and where these cataclysmic seismic events will happen.

Is this even possible?

Europe has an unexpected advantage when it comes to studying quakes – a detailed written history. Evidence of past events can help scientists with their discoveries today. For example, we’ll see how the 1755 quake in Lisbon has helped design a tsunami warning system for Morocco.

We’ll see how seismologists use state-of-the-art satellite and sensing technology. From archaeology to space tech – every tool is needed to collect the data that will unlock the secrets of our restless planet.

In reality, the risk of a major quake in Europe is low. But it is possible. And the bigger our cities become, the more chance that medium quakes could cause chaos and death. Even if scientists can predict earthquakes, people will still have to learn how to live with them.

At Europe’s leading test facility we will see the latest quakeproof houses and materials under scrutiny. But the best preparations cannot ready people for the experience and aftermath of a major seismic event. The next one could happen at any time.

Ultimately, this is a human story. We find that story in Norcia, one of the hardest hit communities in the 2016 earthquakes. Norcia is nestled in the beautiful Apennine mountains, the green heart of Italy, a land of ancient architecture and abundant fields. How the people here are learning to live with the danger from below, may offer crucial lessons for all of us.