In March 2010 two borehole strainmeters and three Michelson tiltmeters within the Campi Flegrei volcanic system, Italy, registered an abrupt deformation signal that was followed 20 min later by seismic slip on a pair of onshore normal faults. We demonstrate that the observed strain changes were caused by a small but rapid volume decrease in a previously identified offshore ellipsoidal magma source or part of it. Although the total deflation was below the detectability of interferometric synthetic aperture radar and GPS, deflation observed rates were briefly 2 orders of magnitude more rapid than decadal inflation rates. We conclude that this high dilatational contraction rate was responsible for triggering seismicity and that this process may be responsible for the normal faulting often observed in the Campi Flegrei region. Our study quantifies the crucial role played by a transient, minor reduction in dilatational stress, in triggering slip on a fault near critical failure. Our subsurface measurements of strain and tilt registered anomalous deformation three sigma above background noise levels 17 min before the onset of microseismicity suggesting strain measurements have potential utility as an early warning system for the city of Naples.
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