Prof. Laike Mariam Asfaw, a renowned seismologist and geophysicist and a mentor to many at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, where he led the Geophysical Observatory from 1978 to 2008, passed away following an accident this past March.
Laike graduated with a bachelor of science in mathematics from Addis Ababa University (formerly Haile Selassie I University) in 1968. He then completed a master of science degree in applied mathematics in 1971 and a Ph.D. in 1975 in continuum mechanics at the University of Liverpool in England. Upon his return to Ethiopia, he became an assistant professor of geophysics at the Geophysical Observatory, which had been established during the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958) as a geomagnetic observatory. A seismometer (station AAE) was installed soon after in 1959 through the World-Wide Standardized Seismograph Network.
A Life of Science and Service
Laike managed to keep the Geophysical Observatory operational during the military junta and social upheaval of the mid-1970s, despite temporary closure of the university and close scrutiny of international collaborations. Through his mentorship of early-career scientists and his encouragement of international collaboration, he made the institute an excellent research hub for Earth and space scientists. Laike was the Ethiopian project leader for the 2001–2004 Ethiopia Afar Geoscientific Lithospheric Experiment, which involved some 80 Ethiopian and overseas scientists, including nearly every geophysicist in Ethiopia thanks to Laike and his team.
Owing in large part to his leadership and vision, the Geophysical Observatory in 2005 became the Institute of Geophysics, Space Science and Astronomy, which incorporated other units within Addis Ababa University’s faculty to become a truly interdisciplinary research center. Laike left a legacy of productive international collaborations that involved both strong commitments and contributions from the Ethiopian side. As a result, several successful overseas projects were conducted in recent years that helped to improve our understanding of the Afar region and the Main Ethiopian Rift and to mitigate earthquake, volcano, landslide, and fissuring hazards. Overall, he advised more than 20 national and international projects about earthquake and related hazards.
Laike also authored or coauthored more than 60 papers published in international peer-reviewed journals, focusing mainly on seismicity, seismology, geodesy, and volcanic hazards. His solo-authored 1982 paper titled “Development of Earthquake-Induced Fissures in the Main Ethiopian Rift” and another he coauthored in 1992 titled “Recent Inactivity in African Rift,” both published in Nature, motivated decades of field and modeling studies investigating East Africa’s rift features. They certainly inspired our own research decisions and directions.
Laike was an emblematic ambassador for African geosciences—and for Ethiopia. He served as the first president of the Ethiopian Association of Seismology and Earthquake Engineering. He also participated in numerous committees, including the International Association of Seismology and Physics of the Earth’s Interior Committee for Developing Countries, the International Association of Geodesy (IAG) working group on the application of geodetic studies for earthquake prediction, the working group on verification technology for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics/IAG working group on dynamic isostasy.
Laike became an associate of the United Kingdom’s Royal Astronomical Society in 2007, awarded for his long-standing service as director of the Geophysical Observatory. He was also a member of the Ethiopian Geosciences and Mineral Engineering Association and of AGU. In 2008, Laike was the second recipient of AGU’s International Award, given for his ability to help acquire high-quality data and his commitment to furthering the careers of younger colleagues.
A Legacy of Generosity and Support
Prof. Laike Mariam Asfaw was a modest giant in geophysics and in science in general. He will be remembered by his colleagues and students for his selfless and kind personality and for his commitment over more than 50 years to institutional service and to mentoring generations of geoscientists. He will also be remembered for his Volkswagen Beetle, which was perpetually parked in front of the observatory and was kept company by a giant land tortoise that kept the grass tidy.
In a recent note to us, Ian Bastow of Imperial College London wrote about his extended stays at the Geophysical Observatory during his doctoral studies: “With Atalay, [Asfaw] built an observatory that became a magnet for researchers worldwide. In 2019, when I returned to Ethiopia to deploy a new seismic network, I recall a day when I needed a signature, but many observatory staff were away at a conference in Hawassa. But who was there in his office, still reading, as he had been 15 years earlier? Dr. Laike, of course. Future generations of Ethiopian scientists need look no further than Dr. Laike for a blueprint for running an observatory. His love for, and selfless dedication to, learning seemed to drive everything he did. As a visiting scientist, one could not possibly ask for a better mentor and scientific colleague.”
Laike’s intellectual curiosity and generosity enriched the careers of the many Ethiopian and international students and researchers whose work he encouraged and supported. The two of us, as well as many others, would not have succeeded in field studies without his wisdom, support, and kindness. Laike Mariam Asfaw’s legacy endures at the Institute for Geophysics, Space Science and Astronomy at Addis Ababa University.
Atalay Ayele, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia; and Cynthia Ebinger (firstname.lastname@example.org), Tulane University, New Orleans, La.
Ayele, A.,Ebinger, C. (2020), Laike Mariam Asfaw (1945–2020), Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO150748. Published on 23 October 2020.
Text © 2020. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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