Hiro Kanamori

Hiroo Kanamori was awarded the 2014 William Bowie Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 17 December 2014 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “outstanding contributions to fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.”


Hiroo Kanamori has made outstanding contributions to fundamental geophysics, earthquake physics, and hazard mitigation, but equally important is his contribution to the global geoscience community through his unselfish cooperation with a myriad of colleagues and students over the years.

Hiroo started research work at the University of Tokyo in the 1960s by designing and building a shipboard gravity meter, which was followed by his study of the crust–mantle structure of Japan. Being so versatile, he soon was engaged in experimental and theoretical research with younger colleagues on the physical properties of rocks and minerals, the shock wave equation of state, elastic waves, thermal diffusivity, and electrical conductivity, to name just a few subjects. All these areas were highly pioneering at that time. These experiences were instrumental in providing Hiroo with an unusually broad scope in his later research. After a few years, around 1970, he decided to concentrate his efforts on seismology and was apparently fascinated by the power of the wave equation.

His monumental works in the early 1970s verified the newly born plate tectonics idea by analyzing great island arc earthquakes and presenting the notion of tsunami earthquakes. After moving to the California Institute of Technology in 1972, his activity bloomed in diverse fields. The introduction of moment magnitude, quantification of great earthquakes, and the diversity of subduction zones are some examples. After around 1980, volcanic eruptions at Saint Helens and Pinatubo were apt targets for his long-period techniques. His discovery of the W phase, establishment of real-time seismology, and its application to the Caltech-USGS Broadcast of Earthquakes (CUBE) system for the mitigation of seismic hazard have followed one after another, with each one being truly epoch making.

Hiroo’s contributions to the field of seismology are clear to anyone familiar with modern seismology and geophysics. His long exemplary track record of unselfish cooperation is also exceptional. Hiroo is a private, self-effacing individual who has always remained focused on scientific research. But he has mentored and inspired generations of students and colleagues. They can all attest to how freely he offered his guidance to anyone and how keenly interested he was in colleagues’ work. It is impossible to count how many publications were critically shaped or even sparked by insights that Hiroo offered.

Hiroo Kanamori is a true gentleman and always most friendly to people regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or race. Not only a great number of students but also the whole geophysical community have profoundly benefitted from him. Together with the late Kei Aki, Hiroo Kanamori is really the “made in Japan and perfected in America” giant star who will remain shining brightly in the history of seismology.

—S. Uyeda, The Japan Academy, Tokyo, Japan


Thank you very much for the kind words from Professor Uyeda. I am extremely honored to be awarded the 2014 AGU Bowie Medal.

I have been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time as a geophysicist and seismologist. Hewitt Dix introduced me to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and Bob Sharp, Don Anderson, and Clarence Allen, among others, encouraged me to come to Caltech. Fortunately, my move coincided with a time of spectacular development in seismic instrumentation, theories, and communication technology, which all contributed to making seismology a truly quantitative and exciting field.

I had been fascinated by the exciting geophysical processes I learned at the University of Tokyo working with Hitoshi Takeuchi and Seiya Uyeda, and I wished to strengthen the evidence for various models. Because of the limited quality and quantity of data available then, the progress had been slow; however, the situation has changed drastically. The quality and resolution of the interpretation of data have improved to the extent that we can almost believe the results. This is quite satisfying for observational scientists, and I believe that the situation can only improve, but we should all strive to further advance this science with creative and innovative approaches and hard work.

Although I was happy with my academic work, I had a strong interest in making good use of scientific knowledge for hazard mitigation by using modern technology. Inevitably, natural processes are complex, and no matter how much progress we made in science, it would be difficult to make precise short-term forecasts of natural processes in a way the public would perceive them as useful predictions.

Fortunately, the advancements in instrumental, computational, and communication technology have provided a means to use real-time information effectively for the benefit of society. Working in this area is not always easy in academic environments, but I was again fortunate in getting moral and practical support from the Caltech administration to start initial investigations in this direction. In this endeavor collaboration with government agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey played a key role. It is satisfying to see seismology working for the benefit of people.

I thank my colleagues, my students, and the staff who contributed to all the excitement we have had together in advancing science and in using it to save lives and property. I also thank my family for their wonderful support of my academic life.

—Hiro Kanamori, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

Citation: AGU (2015), Hiroo Kanamori receives 2014 William Bowie Medal, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO021559.

Text © 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
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