Pasadena Earthquake Expert Kenneth Hudnut to Receive National Award for Service, Leadership in Geodesy

Published : Tuesday, October 24, 2017 | 6:57 PM

Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist assigned to the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, has been chosen to receive the 2017 Ivan I. Mueller Award for Distinguished Service and Leadership at the 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held on December 11 to 15 in New Orleans.

The award acknowledges “major achievements in service to and/or leadership within the field of geodesy.” It also recognizes the extraordinary importance of international collaboration in modern satellite geodesy.

Dr. Hudnut applies new technologies such as GPS and lidar (light detection and ranging) to earthquake research as a geophysicist for the USGS in Pasadena.

To help understand the San Andreas fault system and earthquake source physics, Hudnut has studied earthquakes worldwide using satellite and airborne imagery analysis, along with field work, to provide ground truth. He led the earthquake source design for the ShakeOut scenario, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the San Andreas fault enacted by over 5.5 million people in November 2008 and more people annually since then.

“Ken Hudnut has been a leading model of scientific leadership and public service for almost 3 decades. His pioneering use of high-precision GPS techniques has contributed to the understanding of seismic fault structures and behavior. He played an important leadership role in the design of the modernized GPS L1C signal, which will improve the worldwide services provided by GPS to billions of users. Finally, his work with the U.S. Geological Survey continues to contribute to the management and reduction of risks arising from earthquakes and other national hazards, to the benefit of the public.” – Dr. Scott Pace, Executive Secretary of the National Space Council

“Through Ken’s vision and leadership, we learned that it was possible to install a continuous GPS network (SCIGN) dedicated to understanding tectonic processes and how airborne lidar could characterize tectonic deformation B4 and after an earthquake,” Pace wrote. “Ken has become the bridge between the Earth science and emergency response communities, communicating hard science to decision makers and educating the public with ShakeOut earthquake drills.”

As project manager for the GPS L1C signal design since 2003 and GPS SLR team member, his contributions to GPS modernization received recognition from NASA, GPS World, and the Institute of Navigation.

Before joining USGS in 1992, Hudnut was a postdoctoral fellow at the Caltech’s Seismological Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1989, and his A.B. (high honors) from Dartmouth in 1983. He is a Visiting Associate in Geophysics on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology.

In a response published by the American Geophysical Union, Hudnut thanked the AGU Geodesy section, especially President Susan Owen and President-elect Meghan Miller, Gerald Bawden and others who supported his nomination.

He also thanked his grandmother, biochemist Dr. Olive W. Smith, who “encouraged my scientific curiosity.”

“Later, Dick Stoiber taught me about volcanoes and Jim Savage showed me how to use geodesy to study them, and earthquake-related deformation. John Beavan, Kerry Sieh, Will Prescott, Nano Seeber, Tom Rockwell, and Mike Bevis guided and worked with me to explore new ways to mix geodesy, geology, GPS, and imagery to study the San Andreas Fault system,” Hudnut said. “Earthquakes also inspired me; the significant earthquakes of 1987, 1992, 1994, 1999, and 2010 each helped identify how we needed to keep improving our observations before future big events. Over the years, with Hiroo Kanamori, Don Helmberger, Tom Heaton, and Joann Stock and their talented students and postdocs, we imagined how improved observations could answer questions concerning fault rupture and how it relates to ground motions, displacements, permanent deformation, and transient effects. Recently, pushing lidar’s limits with Ben Brooks and Craig Glennie has been exciting.”

Hudnut said leaders at USGS allowed him free rein to pursue collaborative projects.

“It is gratifying that Scott and Gerald mentioned notable examples of teamwork with SCIGN, B4 lidar, the GPS L1C signal, scenarios, and risk reduction,” he said in the response. “This award promotes teamwork that, in turn, fuels the innovative thinking needed to answer big scientific questions that remain. Finally, I thank Dana Coyle and our children, Alexa, Olivia, and Brock, for their love and support.”

Dr. Hudnut is a Visiting Associate in Geophysics on the Caltech faculty.






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