Harold Tobin, 2018 Paul G. Silver Award for Outstanding Scientific Service recipient
Harold Tobin

Harold Tobin recently became the new director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) at the University of Washington. Over the past 17 years, Harold has devoted the better part of his career to leading the Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone Experiment (NanTroSEIZE), to date the most ambitious initiative for earthquake study using ocean drilling.

Harold studies the subduction megathrust and fore arc through seismic imaging and deep drilling, but his interests encompass rock mechanics, fault mechanics, earthquake seismology, and field geology. His scientific vision, multidisciplinary knowledge, and great leadership qualities position him extremely well to lead a community initiative as ambitious and complex as NanTroSEIZE.

NanTroSEIZE faced unprecedented challenges. It not only needed to integrate knowledge of plate tectonics, seismology, structural geology, marine geology, hydrogeology, borehole physics, and many other fields, but also has had to push the limit of drilling and monitoring technology. Its success also depends on its leader’s ability to create and maintain a work environment that nurtures cooperation among scientists of all levels, across their vastly different cultural and scientific backgrounds.

Today, after numerous site surveys, 11 drilling and instrumentation expeditions, and a number of technological and funding crises, NanTroSEIZE has built a seafloor borehole transect accompanied by a monitoring network and is on its way to the final phase of drilling to the megathrust itself. It has generated a huge body of science by borehole sampling and monitoring and by stimulating associated research. A generation of young scientists grew up with NanTroSEIZE, motivated and trained to study great earthquakes and tsunamis in new ways. What Harold and his coleaders from Japan have accomplished together is truly remarkable.

The Paul Silver Award is the best way to recognize Dr. Harold Tobin’s outstanding contributions to the fields of seismology and tectonophysics through his “leadership in community research initiatives.”

—Kelin Wang, Geological Survey of Canada, Sidney, B. C.


Thank you so much for this recognition, Kelin, which comes as a complete and humbling surprise to me. I learned early on in graduate school from the great Casey Moore that going for something big with a diverse team makes for the most exciting and fun science. I took that superb advice to heart, and it has made for a rich and rewarding career path.

I have been lucky to get to be the “head cheerleader” for the more than 120 colleagues who have been part of NanTroSEIZE, many more than I can name here. But I particularly am grateful to Gaku Kimura, Greg Moore, Masa Kinoshita, Mike Underwood, Eiichiro Araki, Lisa McNeill, Michi Strasser, Kiyoshi Suyehiro, and, above all, Demian Saffer. Besides Casey, Mark Brandon and Eli Silver got me started in subduction zone research. Along the way, I’ve been very lucky to work with and learn from so many others, and I thank you all. Heartfelt thanks especially to all of my colleagues at New Mexico Tech and University of Wisconsin–Madison who supported my efforts in organizing big science even though it didn’t necessarily bring the big bucks back to the home institution. Former students Matthew Knuth, Tamara Jeppson, Susanna Webb, Sarah Bremmer, and many others have been phenomenal. Finally, none of what I have done would have been possible without the love and tolerance of my family, Mary Dwyer and Kira and Iris Tobin.

Very soon we are headed out on International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 358 to try to finally reach our megathrust target. Meanwhile, in this new chapter of my career at Washington, the two “big science” hats I’m wearing—the PNSN and the SZ4D planning project—promise many more years of fun science working with dedicated and creative people. I couldn’t be more excited about the future.

—Harold Tobin, University of Washington, Seattle


(2018), Tobin receives Paul G. Silver Award, Eos, 99, Published on 30 November 2018.

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