Professor Nicholas Neocles Ambraseys 1929-2012
Born 19 January 1929 Athens, Greece
Died 28 December 2012 aged 83
Nick first came to Imperial in the early 1950s to study for a PhD and DIC, which were awarded in 1958. He spent the first three years of his academic career as a lecturer at Imperial, followed by a few years in Greece and the USA, returning to Imperial in 1964, where he remained until his death. He became Professor of Engineering Seismology in 1974 and was Head of the Engineering Seismology Section from 1971 to 1994, when he retired. He remained active until the end, holding grants, supervising PhD students and publishing papers; indeed two manuscripts are currently under review by one of the leading journals in his field.
His research covered earthquakes and their effects on the ground, structures and populations. His early work was concerned with the response of earth dams to earthquakes, particularly large dams in the Himalayas (e.g. at Mangla). However, early on in his career he began studying historical accounts of earthquakes, particularly those occurring in the eastern Mediterranean region, and it is in this field where he arguably made his greatest contributions. His meticulous study of historical documents on earthquakes occurring in the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere (e.g. Central America) is second-to-none and he published many dozens of articles and books on this painstaking work. In 2009 his magnum opus on eastern Mediterranean seismicity, ‘Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East’), comprising almost 1000 pages, was published. While establishing his reputation as the leading scholar of historical seismicity of the Eastern Mediterranean, he continued to work on the assessment of earthquake ground motions and the collection and analysis of strong-motion (accelorometric) data. Much of this work was conducted within the frameworks of the Strong-Motion Working Groups of the European Seismological Commission and the European Association of Earthquake Engineering, which Nick led for much of the past forty years, work which has been very influential for seismic hazard assessment in Europe and the Middle East.
In all his work he sought to act as a bridge between earth sciences and engineering and between research and practice. His approach was influenced by the knowledge and insights he gained during dozens of post-earthquake field missions in various parts of the world, many of which were under the aegis of UNESCO. These missions led to a series of reports that had an impact on the reconstruction of the earthquake-damaged cities such as Skopje and Managua. His great ability with languages (fluent in three or four and comprehension of many others) was an important factor in sustaining good contacts with people of many nationalities.
In recognition of his lifetime of achievements he was given numerous awards and fellowships from prestigious institutions, for example: Busk Medal for Scientific Discovery from the Royal Geographical Society (1975), Mercenary Award of the European Association of Earthquake Engineering (1975), Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering (1985), Honorary Fellowship of the Society of Earthquake Engineering & Structural Dynamics (1986), Honorary Fellowship of the International Association of Earthquake Engineering (1992), Honoris Causa from University of Athens (1993), Member of the European Academy (1997), Award of the Freedom of the City of Skopje (1998), Harry Fielding Reid Medal of the Seismological Society of America (2006), Fellowship of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Fellowship of the Geological Society and Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society. From his election in 2003 he was an active member of the First Section of the Academy of Athens and he divided his time between London and Athens.
Nicholas (Nick) Ambraseys, Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Investigator in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and long-term member of the College staff, died peacefully at his home in Putney on 28th December 2012 at the age of 83, after a short illness.
Nick Ambraseys’ contributions to engineering seismology and earthquake engineering were immense, wide-ranging, covered almost 60 years, and he will be sadly missed. The Department, in particular the Geotechnics Section, are planning to recognise his contribution by organising a memorial to him, to coincide with the 2014 Rankine Lecture, scheduled for 19 March 2014. He is survived by his wife, Xeni.
Fields Engineering Seismology, Soil Mechanics
Institutions Imperial College London, UK
Alma mater Imperial College London, UK
National Technical University of Athens, Greece
Academic advisors Alec Skempton,
Alan W. Bishop
Notable students Sarada K. Sarma
Known for Historical Seismicity, Calculation of seismic displacements of dams
Influences Alan W. Bishop
Influenced Sarada K. Sarma, Harry Bolton Seed, Nathan M. Newmark
Notable awards 44th Rankine Lecture (2004)
Nicholas Neocles Ambraseys Dip Eng DIC PhD FICE FREng (Greek: Νικόλαος Αμβράζης, 1929 – 28 December 2012) was a Greek Engineering Seismologist. He was emeritus professor of Engineering Seismology and Senior Research Fellow at Imperial College London.
Ambraseys studied Rural and Surveying Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens (Diploma in 1952) and then Civil Engineering at Imperial College specialising in Soil Mechanics and Engineering Seismology. He worked with Professors Alec Skempton and Alan W. Bishop and obtained his PhD degree in 1958; his thesis title was "The seismic stability of earth dams". He joined the staff in 1958 as a Lecturer and he was appointed a Reader in Engineering Seismology in 1968 and full Professor of Engineering Seismology in 1974.
In 1968 he established the Engineering Seismology Section (ESEE) (now part of the Geotechnics Section) in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of Imperial College and served as its first Head from 1971 to 1994, until he retired and was reappointed as Senior Research Investigator. He founded and became the first chairman of the British National Committee of Earthquake Engineering.
His major research focused on Engineering Seismology and Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering. He specialised in Earthquake Hazard Assessment, the earthquake resistant design of geotechnical structures (dams and foundations) and strong-motion seismology; on which he published widely (more than 300 publications, of which several papers appeared in highly cited journals provided consulting services and edited work of other colleagues in numerous journals.
His doctoral work on the seismic stability of dams (1958) dealt, among other issues, with the prediction of permanent displacements in earth dams after earthquakes and formed the basis of what is today known as the Newmark's sliding block analysis method (1965). Newmark himself acknowledged  Ambraseys' contribution to this method through "... the comments and suggestions... of his colleague for several months, while he was visiting the University of Illinois...". Moreover, Harry Bolton Seed, the founding father of the diverse academic field Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering, in the 19th Rankine Lecture  acknowledged the influence of Ambraseys, "... who introduced him to the problems of earthquakes and encouraged him to become involved in this new area pointing out the enormous field laboratory that existed in California..." Ambraseys' early work  on the seismic stability of earth dams set the foundations of a new method of analysis which was later further developed by other researchers, the "shear beam" method; which was an early attempt to consider the dynamic behavior of an earth dam due to seismic wave propagation.
He was extensively involved in the European Strong Motion Database project. He also worked on hydrodynamics and investigated how to calculate hydrodynamic forces on various types of structures. Moreover, his contribution to tsunamis has been significant, and there is an intensity scale named after him (Sieberg-Ambraseys Tsunami Intensity Scale).
He was a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, of the European Academy, of the Academy of Athens and the medallist of a number of UK and European learned societies. Ambraseys was invited in 2004 to deliver the 44th Rankine Lecture of the British Geotechnical Society, titled Engineering, seismology and soil mechanics.
Ambraseys, N., Melville, C. (1982). A history of Persian earthquakes, Cambridge University Press.
Ambraseys, N., Melville, C., Adams R. (1994) Seismicity of Egypt, Arabia and the Red Sea, Cambridge University Press.
Ambraseys, N., Finkel C. (1995) The seismicity of Turkey, Eren Press.
Ambraseys N., Sigbjörnsson R. (1999) Reappraisal of Seismicity of Iceland, Polytechnica Pub., Reykjavik.
Ambraseys N., Adams R. (2000) The seismicity of Central America, Imperial College Press.
Ambraseys N. (2009) Earthquakes in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of 2000 years of seismicity, Cambridge University Press. (ISBN 9780521872928)
^ In memoriam of Prof. Ambraseys
^ Ambraseys, N., Sarma, S.K. (1968) Large earthquake forces on gravity dams. Nature, 219, 1354-1356.
^ Ambraseys, N., Tchalenko, J. (1968) Dashti Biaz, Iran Earthquake of August 1968. Nature, 220, 903-905.
^ Ambraseys, N., Tchalenko, J. (1970) The Gediz, Turkey, earthquake of March 28 1970. Nature, 227, 592-593.
^ Ambraseys, N. (1971) Value of historical records of earthquakes. Nature, 232, 375-379.
^ Ambraseys, N. (1973) The earthquake of Managua, Nicaragua, 1972. Nature, 244, 427-428.
^ Ambraseys, N. (1977) Long period effects in the Romanian earthquake of March 1977. Nature, 268, 324-325.
^ Ambraseys N. (1977) Gemona: the reckoning. Nature, 265, 3-4.
^ Wilson, K., Ambraseys N. (1980) A new date for the Taupo eruption. Nature, 288, 252-253.
^ Ambraseys, N., Melville, C. (1983) Seismicity of Yemen. Nature, 303, 321-323.
^ Billiris, H., D. Paradissis, G. Veis, P. England, W. Featherstone, B. Parsons, P. Cross, P. Rands, M. Rayson, P. Sellers, V. Ashkenazi, M. Davison, J. Jackson and N. Ambraseys (1991) Geodetic determination of tectonic deformation in central Greece from 1900 to 1988. Nature, 350, 124-129.
^ Shaw B., Ambraseys N., England P., Floyd M., Gorman G., Higham T., Jackson J. , Nocquet J., Pain C,, Piggott M. (2008) Eastern Mediterranean tectonics and tsunami hazard inferred from the AD 365 earthquake. Nature Geoscience 1, 268-276.
^ Ambraseys, N. and Bilham, R (2011) Corruption kills. Nature, 469 (7329), 153-155.
^ Newmark, N. M. (1965) Effects of earthquakes on dams and embankments. Geotechnique, 15 (2) 139-160.
^ Seed, H. B. (1979) Considerations in the earthquake-resistant design of earth and rockfill dams. Geotechnique, 29 (3) 215-262.
^ Ambraseys, N. N. (1960) On the shear response of a two-dimensional truncated wedge subjected to an arbitrary disturbance, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 50(1), 45-56
^ Ambraseys, N. N. (1960) The seismic stability of earth dams, Proceedings of the 2nd World Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Tokyo, III, 1345-1363
^ Ambraseys, N. N. and Sarma, S. K. (1967) The response of earth dams to strong earthquakes, Geotechnique, 17(2), 181-213
^ Gazetas, G. (1987) Seismic response of earth dams: some recent developments. Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering, 6 (1) 2-47.
^ Ambraseys, N. N. (1962). Data for the investigation of seismic sea waves in the Eastern Mediterranean. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 52, 895 – 913.
^ Sieberg-Ambraseys Tsunami Intensity Scale