06/08/2007 07:00:00

Caltech Seismologist Hiroo Kanamori Awarded Kyoto Prize by Inamori Foundation

PASADENA, Calif.—Hiroo Kanamori, one of the world's leading authorities on earthquakes, has been awarded the 23rd annual Kyoto Prize by the Inamori Foundation of Japan. The announcement was made today in Kyoto.

According to the Inamori Foundation, Kanamori is being awarded the honor for his "significant contributions to understanding the physical processes of earthquakes and developing seismic hazard mitigation systems to protect human life."

Kanamori is the John E. and Hazel S. Smits Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology. A former director of the Seismological Laboratory at Caltech, he is widely known among earthquake scientists for a variety of important contributions. In 1977 he devised a moment-magnitude scale for determining the magnitudes of very large earthquakes, based on the amount of energy they release. Known as energy magnitude measurements, the method accounted for the effect of seismic waves with very long periods that were not accounted for by earlier methods.

Using the improved method, scientists were able to obtain more precise measurements of the energy of large earthquakes that occurred in the past, such as the 1960 Chilean earthquake and the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, as well as a better means of studying and analyzing seismic events when they occur.

Kanamori has also worked on the nature of tsunamis, particularly the relationship between ground motion and generation of giant sea waves that can have devastating consequences for coastline habitation. These "tsunami earthquakes" release most of their energy in very long-period seismic waves that do not necessarily cause precipitous shaking, but can nonetheless create huge ocean waves. He has also been a longtime advocate of automated early-warning systems to let populations know when a seismic event has occurred that could result in a tsunami.

Kanamori earned his doctorate in geophysics at the University of Tokyo in 1964. He came to Caltech as a postdoctoral researcher the following year, and after stints at MIT and the University of Tokyo, returned to Caltech as a full professor in 1972.

He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a past president of the Seismological Society of America, and winner of the National Academy of Sciences Day Prize and the Japan Academy Prize.

Kanamori will share this year's Kyoto Prize with Pina Bausch, director and choreographer of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, and Hiroo Inokuchi, a materials scientist who has made fundamental contributions to organic molecular electronics. Kanamori, Inokuchi, and Bausch will each receive a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately $410,000 at the current exchange rate), a Kyoto Prize Medal of 20-karat gold, and a diploma, and will be feted at a special weeklong event at Kyoto beginning November 9.

The Inamori Foundation was established in 1984 by Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera and KDDI Corporation. The prize was created in 1985, in line with Inamori's belief that individuals have "no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of society," and that humanity's future "can be assured only when there is a balance between our scientific progress and our spiritual depth."

Written by Robert Tindol