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Christopher H. Scholz wins top honor in seismology

Seismological Society of America


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Credit: Courtesy Columbia University

SAN FRANCISCO--The Seismological Society of America (SSA) will present its highest honor, the Harry Fielding Reid Medal, to Christopher H. Scholz, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia University and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, at its annual meeting 20-22 April in Reno, Nevada.

Throughout his 50-year career, Scholz has brought a unique, interdisciplinary approach to seismology that bridges the gap from laboratory studies of rock mechanics to fundamental studies of crustal-scale deformation. His work on the brittle tectonics of the Earth's crust has guided influential seismological research in areas such as the physics of earthquakes and the growth of faults and mountains.

In his earliest research, Scholz was one of the first to show how rock deformation experiments in the lab could be related deformation in the crust. He soon applied his lab insights to illuminate patterns of strain accumulation and release in great subduction zone earthquakes. In the 1970s, Scholz proposed the dilatancy-diffusion model of earthquake prediction, which provided a framework for seismologists to study some of the geophysical effects in rock observed before and during an earthquake. His work has also helped to develop the methodology--used by the Southern California Earthquake Center and others to create regional seismic hazard maps--that extracts spatial and size distributions of earthquakes from geological observations of fault lengths and slip rates.

"He has continually defined problems, guided thought, and stimulated research in the community of geologists, geodesists, seismologists and theoreticians participating in the quest to understand earthquakes and related processes associated with deformation of the earth's crust," said Steven G. Wesnousky, director of the Center for Neotectonic Studies and Foundation Professor of Geology and Seismology at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Scholz received his bachelor's degree in geological engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1964 and his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967. During his time at Columbia University and Lamont-Doherty, he has guided more than two dozen students to their doctoral degrees and to subsequent positions in universities and research laboratories. He has written more than 200 papers and books, including the 1990 acclaimed textbook, The Mechanics of Earthquakes and Faulting, with a second edition in 2003.

Scholz is a 2005 recipient of the prestigious Murchison Medal from the Geological Society of London, among his numerous other accolades. He has worked on active seismotectonic field sites in Iceland, Botswana, Malawi, Ethiopia, California, Iran, Japan, and New Zealand.

In 1997, Scholz published Fieldwork: A Geologist's Memoir of the Kalahari, about his field experiences in northern Botswana, and in 2014 published the novel Stick-Slip, a popular thriller about an imminent earthquake threat at the Cascadia megathrust plate boundary.

First awarded in 1975, the Medal recognizes outstanding contributions in seismology and earthquake engineering. Harry Fielding Reid, a pioneering American seismologist, was in 1906 the first to propose the elastic-rebound theory, concerning the buildup and release of stress and strain around faults as a cause of earthquakes.

The call for nominations for next year's Medal, along with a list of past winners, are available at the Seismological Society of America's website.


The Seismological Society of America is a scientific society devoted to the advancement of earthquake science. Founded in 1906 in San Francisco, the Society now has members throughout the world representing a variety of technical interests: seismologists and other geophysicists, geologists, engineers, insurers, and policy-makers in preparedness and safety.

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