The Harry Fielding Reid Medal

ssamedalc2The Harry Fielding Reid Medal of the Seismological Society of America is awarded for outstanding contributions in seismology or earthquake engineering. It is awarded no more frequently than once in any calendar year. The medal is presented at the annual meeting following the year of the award.

Current Medalist | Full List of Medalists

Call for Nominations

Nomination Procedure

At least two but no more than five members of the Society may forward the name of a nominee together with a letter from each nominating member and a single, optional, curriculum vitae with bibliography in support of their nominee to the Secretary of the Society (address given below) on or before 15 February of each year. Each nomination letter may have more than one signer, but each signer should sign only one letter. To simplify communications with the Secretary, it is requested that all nominators for a particular nominee select among themselves a chief nominator through whom all correspondences with the Society will pass. Please note that the principal nominator should integrate the nomination letters and send ONE nomination package to ensure that all letters of endorsement reach the decision makers on time. Questions may be directed to the Chair of the Honors Committee, Peter Shearer ( Please list Reid Medal - Question as the subject line.

Nominations for all SSA awards are solicited from the members to be sent to the SSA Secretary, by the due date of 15 February. Electronic submissions should be e-mailed in .TXT, .PDF or .DOC files to <>. While electronic submissions are encouraged, hard copies may be mailed to:

Secretary, Seismological Society of America
c/o Nan Broadbent
400 Evelyn Ave, Suite 201
Albany, CA 94706-1375
Fax: +1-510-525-7204

2017 Medalist

George Plafker

USGS emeritus geologist George Plafker and his colleagues did painstaking fieldwork after the magnitude 9.2 Alaskan earthquake in 1964, covering hundreds of kilometers of Alaskan shoreline in small boats, helicopters, and float-equipped after the 1964 quake helped to launch a new field of megathrust earthquake geology, which used observations of the placement of intertidal organisms such as acorn barnacles, mussels and rockweed to determine the amounts of vertical change in land relative to sea level near subduction zones.

Plafker and his colleagues determined that the massive Alaskan quake was caused by rupture along a deeply buried fault in a subduction zone where the Pacific tectonic plate thrusts below the North American plate. Earlier accounts of the Alaskan earthquake had suggested that the quake took place as slip along a vertical fault, as the Pacific plate rotated counter-clockwise against the North American plate.

Plafker's work on the Alaska earthquake led to a re-examination of the 1960 magnitude 9.5 Chilean earthquake, the largest in recorded history, eight years later. After studying more than 1000 kilometers of mainland coast and islands of the Archipiélago de los Chonos in southern Chile, he and his colleagues concluded that the 1960 earthquake was also caused by megathrust faulting at a subduction zone, rather than slip along a vertical fault as previously thought. Megathrust earthquakes include the largest magnitude earthquakes seen on Earth, and often have devastating effects on coastal communities around the globe.

"He is the one field geologist whose fieldwork contributed to the essence of plate tectonics, and specifically to subduction," said Peter Molnar, a professor of geological sciences at University of Colorado Boulder, in his commendation of Plafker.

In his explorations, Plafker moved beyond his primary geological mapping research in southern Alaska to search for other geological evidence of tectonic deformation, including mapping active faults and studying ancient peat deposits that extended the megathrust record back in time.

These paleoseismic studies within the 1964 rupture zone identified a total of nine giant seismic events in Alaska within the past 6500 years. His study of historic active faults and paleoseismicity in Alaska remains the basis for all seismic hazard maps in the state today.

In his nomination for the Medal, Plafker's colleagues noted that his thorough and imaginative research has had an impact from earthquake engineering to popular writing about earthquakes and tsunamis. His work on the Alaskan and Chilean earthquakes transformed ideas about the long history of massive earthquakes at subduction zones, highlighting the potential seismic risk of key regions such as the Cascadia subduction zone off the west coast of the United States and Canada.

Plafker received his B.S. in geology from Brooklyn College in 1949, his master's degree in geology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1956 and his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Stanford University in 1972. He has worked as an engineering geologist from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a geologist for the USGS, and a petroleum geologist for Chevron. In 1979 Plafker received the U.S. Department of the Interior Distinguished Service Award, the highest award that can be granted to a career employee within the Department of the Interior.

2016 Medalist

Lev P. Vinnik

Lev Vinnik

Lev P. Vinnik serves as the head of the Group of Seismological Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Physics of the Earth, based in Moscow. A pioneer in body-wave seismology for more than 50 years, Vinnik is well-known for his careful and meticulous data analyses and for developing some of the fundamental tools that seismologists around the globe use to study the interior of the Earth.

In his nomination for the Medal, his colleagues noted that his innovative research and superb observational skills came at a time when Vinnik possessed fewer technical and financial resources than many of his colleagues working outside of the former Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation. His dedication and passion for science has led his colleagues to invite him to participate in collaborations in Western Europe, Japan and the United States.

"Although he uses digitally recorded seismograms to work at the forefront of seismology today, his early work relied on analog recordings, which he had to digitize. Only those who have engaged in such tedious work can fully appreciate the tenacity and foresight it took for him to achieve this success," said Peter Molnar, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

"This is unexpected and exciting news. I am greatly indebted to my foreign colleagues for this honor and for their support during my career," said Vinnik.

Some of Vinnik's exceptional contributions to seismology have come from his observations of unusual waveform features that he was able to interpret as measures of significant structural characteristics in the Earth's mantle and core. His observations of P and S converted waves led to his pioneering application of receiver functions to study the upper mantle, and his discovery of splitting among SKS waves helped to confirm and quantify changes in seismic anisotropy in the mantle. These observations, along with numerous others, helped to develop the science of seismic tomography.

Along with a substantial body of published work, Vinnik participated in developing the techniques for detection of nuclear explosions and analysis of recordings of nuclear explosions in the program of Deep Seismic Sounding in the Soviet Union. Among other findings, he discovered that seismic noise in central Asia consists mainly of P waves with steep incidence angles. Previously the noise has been attributed to surface waves.

Vinnik graduated from the Geological Faculty, Department of Geophysics at Moscow State University in 1957. He received his Candidate degree (Ph.D. equivalent) in 1966 and a Doctor of Science degree in physics and mathematics in 1976.

2015 Medalist

Christopher H. Scholz

Chris Scholz_300

Throughout his 50-year career, Christopher Scholz, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia University and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory 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.

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.

2014 Medalist

Thorne Lay


An influential seismologist and community leader whose research has refined our understanding of the Earth’s deep interior, Thorne Lay was honored by SSA at the 2015 annual meeting in Pasadena, Calif.

Known for consistently contributing to advances in some of the most difficult problems in seismology, Lay’s broad scientific outlook is reflected by the breadth of his research contributions to the imaging and improved understanding of Earth’s interior, the study of earthquakes and the monitoring of nuclear explosions.

Lay’s pioneering work has shaped the current understanding of the structure and dynamics of Earth’s mantle and core. His graduate work at the California Institute of Technology in the late 1970s led to the discovery of a layered structure in the D″ zone of the rocky mantle adjacent to Earth’s liquid metallic outer core, and the first modern, detailed description of this boundary region. Studying seismograms to decipher what anomalous signals reveal about the Earth’s interior, Lay’s work identified and characterized this “seismic discontinuity” in the lowermost mantle, or an abrupt change in the speed at which seismic waves pass through this region, and sparked research across the geosciences to understand the physical and chemical structure of D″ and its implications for affecting Earth processes from the core to the surface.

Throughout his career, Lay has also been at the forefront of seismic analysis of earthquake processes, including the rupture characteristics of the largest earthquakes in the seismic record. His intimate connection to data has helped with the nature of his work – trying to understand something thousands of miles away, deep in the Earth’s interior or on the other side of the planet. His early work focused on the characterization of large earthquake sequences and subduction zones, and he has published analyses of each of the great earthquakes of the last decade, providing important case studies for investigations of earthquake interactions, hazards, triggering of adjacent or distant earthquakes, and the fundamental rupture physics of how earthquakes occur.

Lay’s contributions to the field of nuclear explosion seismology have improved the operational capability of the U.S. government to monitor foreign nuclear tests and other seismic events. His publication record on nuclear monitoring topics spans 25 years, focusing on seismic waves recorded at a variety of distances, and addresses the basic understanding of critical wave propagation issues as well as practical work illustrating approaches to monitoring tasks, such as determining the explosive yield and discriminating among man-made and natural seismic events. Lay’s early papers, published while still a graduate student, influenced the debate within the United States government regarding the then-Soviet Union’s testing program and its adherence to treaty limitations.

In addition to his research accomplishments, SSA honored Lay for his service to the scientific community.

2013 Medalist

Kerry Edward Sieh

Seismological SocietyThe Seismological Society of America (SSA) presented its highest honor, the Harry Fielding Reid Medal, to Kerry Edward Sieh, Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, at its  annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska April 30-May 02, 2014.

Throughout his career, geologist Kerry Sieh has developed new ideas and techniques that place him at the forefront of understanding the recurrence of earthquakes and fault behavior. Transforming the field of paleoseismology through his early work on the San Andreas fault to his current work in Asia, he changed how scientists study earthquakes.

Sieh revolutionized the study of earthquakes by spearheading the development of the field of paleoseismology, which is at the forefront of both seismological research and geotechnical practice in seismic hazard assessment.

It was while as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside that Sieh excavated his first trenches across the San Jacinto fault. As a doctoral student at Stanford University, he produced his seminal field work on the San Andreas fault at Pallett Creek in southern California, dating a long sequence of past surface ruptures and introducing methods and types of observations that are still in use today in the analysis of paleo-events along strike-slip faults. Sieh's study at Pallett Creek revealed earthquakes were more frequent than most expected and did not recur as regularly as hoped. This study represented the first time palep-earthquake geology was used to infer detailed long-term fault behavior.

In 2009 Sieh left Caltech, where he was a tenured professor, to establish the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), which is housed at Nanyang Technological University and conducts basic and applied research on natural hazards and climate change in Southeast Asia. EOS focuses on key threats to the region's stability – earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and climate change – and influences education and public safety by devoting nearly one-fifth of the institute's budget to education and outreach.

In addition to his more than 100 scientific papers, Sieh is the co-author of a widely used textbook, the Geology of Earthquakes. In addition to SSA, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, and the Geological Society of America.

2012 Medalist

James Rice

Awards Lunch-2013 ReidMedal_JamesRice_HeadshotThe Seismological Society of America (SSA) presented its highest honor, the Harry Fielding Reid Medal, to James R. Rice, the Mallinckrodt Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics at Harvard University, at its annual meeting April 17-19 in Salt Lake City.

First awarded in 1975, the Harry Fielding Reid Medal is awarded for outstanding contributions in seismology and earthquake engineering.

A prolific and influential researcher in fracture mechanics, Rice has made seminal contributions to numerous fields related to earthquake and fault mechanics over a span of 40 years, and his research has integrated theory, experiment and observations into a comprehensible explanation for how an earthquake might evolve. His contributions have defined and set the standards for many frontiers of research.

“His research opened up new productive fields of investigations, while demonstrating how careful, rigorous mechanics can address seemingly intractable problems,” said Ralph J. Archuleta, professor and former chair of the Department of Earth Science at University of California, Santa Barbara and former recipient of the Reid Medal. “He is synonymous with elegant, creative and leading edge theory on fracture mechanics and its application to earthquake processes.” Rice addresses problems in the theoretical mechanics of solids and fluids -- that is, problems of stressing, deformation, fracture and flow -- as they arise in seismology, tectonophysics and surficial geologic processes and in civil/environmental engineering hydrology and geomechanics. His earthquake studies focus on the nucleation of rupture, thermo- and hydro-mechanical weakening of fault zones during seismic slip, fracture propagation through branched and offset fault systems, tsunami generation and propagation, and relations among stressing, seismicity and deformation in or near continental and subduction fault systems, including the physics of aseismic deformation transients.

Rice received his B.S. in Engineering Mechanics from Lehigh University in 1962 and a M.S. and Ph.D in Applied Mechanics from Lehigh University in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including election to the National Academy of Sciences (1981) and National Academy of Engineering (1980).

2011 Medalist

Barbara Romanowicz Barbara_RomanowiczThrough the course of her career, Barbara Romanowicz has studied the Earth from its surface to its center, establishing herself as one of the most influential seismologists of her time. For her outstanding contributions in seismology and earthquake engineering, the Seismological Society of America (SSA) awarded Romanowicz its top honor, the Harry Fielding Reid Medal, at its annual meeting on April 17 in San Diego, Calif. Since Romanowicz’s early work on seismic tomography that resulted in the first regional scale models of the mantle beneath North America, her research has been on the cutting edge of seismology. Romanowicz, who is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and holds the chair of Physics of the Earth's Interior at Collège de France, in Paris, has made fundamental contributions to practically all areas of global seismology, from body-wave studies of the anisotropic and anelastic structure of the inner core, to normal-mode studies of the Earth's density distribution and surface- waves studies of the upper mantle. Her contributions are not only reflected in the area of research, but also in her service to the seismology community. While still at the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris (IPGP) in the early 1980s, she was instrumental in the conception and development of GEOSCOPE, a worldwide network of seismological observatories from which high quality data are openly available. After arriving at UC Berkeley in 1991, she has revived its Seismological Laboratory, which she directed from 1991 to 2011, leading it to be one of the best in the world. The lab plays a critical role in seismic monitoring and nurtures cutting edge research in seismology and geodesy. It serves as an important link in the seismological infrastructure of the west coast of the United States. Romanowicz has published more than 180 papers and has been honored by leading European and American geophysical organizations. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Member of the National Academy of Sciences.

2010 Medalist

Tatyana G. Rautian Medalist-Rautian-HeadshipA heavyweight in the field of seismology who drove research efforts in the former Soviet Union, Tanya Glebovna Rautian, often called “The Charles Richter of the former Soviet Union” and “generator of ideas,” has dedicated her life to the development of seismology and science in central Asia. She is widely recognized as a pioneer in the study of earthquake source, in the quantification of the seismic coda and in the discrimination of nuclear explosions from earthquakes. Rautian studied physics at the University of Leningrad in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She turned her attention to seismology in 1951 when she and her husband, Vitaly I. Khalturin, left the urban research centers of Moscow and Leningrad behind to establish a seismograph station near Garm in the mountains of Tajikistan. Establishing the research station wasn’t easy. In those days, roads were nearly impassable, electricity was only produced by private generators and modern plumbing had yet to appear. Over the 35 years they spent there, Rautian and Khalturin raised five daughters, helped build a seismological observatory that was the world center of earthquake prediction research in the 1960s and 1970s, and worked to train an entire generation of seismologists studying the seismically active areas of Soviet Central Asia. Isolated from modern technology and seismological literature published in the west, Rautian presented her “energy scale,” which estimated the energy radiated by an earthquake, and in contrast to the Richter scale, sought to link magnitude value directly to the energy radiated by the earthquake. The theoretical work was accompanied by the development of a practical set of nomograms used by Soviet scientists for earthquake location and energy determination. Soviet scientists through much of the latter half of the 20th century relied on “Rautian’s energy scale” to quantify the size of an earthquake. Living for four decades surrounded by the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains, Rautian was treated to a dizzying array of seismic sources that surrounded the research facility where she worked in Garm. Her work involved painstaking analysis of thousands of seismograms. She determined magnitudes, measured spectra, determined attenuation factors and analyzed source characteristics for the thousands of earthquakes recorded by Garm’s network of seismographs each year. Most of her work was published in Russian-language monographs that were largely inaccessible to scientists outside the Soviet Union. Rautian’s second area of contribution to seismology relates to using coda waves to study the seismic source and the attenuation of seismic waves. Her work was parallel to that carried out by Kei Aki and others in the U.S. during the same time period and brought important new observational insights to the topic.

Rautian was also active in facilitating exchanges in the 1970s between American and Soviet scientists. She and her husband moved to the U.S. in 1993, spending extended research terms at Indiana University and the Lamont –Doherty Earth Observatory, where they continued work on seismic coda and developed new research devoted to distinguishing nuclear explosions from earthquakes. They also interacted with dozens of scholars, students and collaborators from other institutions, providing a fresh perspective for many American seismology students.

Recipients of the Harry Fielding Reid Medal
of the Seismological Society of America

Christopher H. Scholz (2015)
Thorne Lay (2014)
Kerry Edward Sieh (2013)
James Rice (2012)
Barbara Romanowicz (2011)
Tatyana G. Rautian (2010)
Paul G. Richards (2009)
Ralph J. Archuleta (2008)
F. Anthony Dahlen (2007)
Nafi Toksoz (2006)
Nicholas N. Ambraseys (2005)
J. Freeman Gilbert (2004)
Raul Madariaga (2003)
Donald Helmberger (2002)
C. Allin Cornell (2001)
E. R. Engdahl (2000)
Adam Dziewonski (1999)
James C. Savage (1998)
Lynn R. Sykes (1997)
James N. Brune (1996)
Clarence R. Allen (1995)
Karl V. Steinbrugge (1993)
Hiroo Kanamori (1991)
Leon Knopoff (1989)
Robert E. Wallace (1988)
Otto W. Nuttli (1987)
Keiiti Aki (1986)
John A. Blume (1985)
Jack E. Oliver (1983)
Frank Press (1982)
George W. Housner (1981)
Kiyoo Wadati (1980)
Sir Harold Jeffreys (1978)
Inge Lehmann (1977)
Charles Richter (1976)
Perry Byerly (1975)