Atkinson honoured as top seismologist

Paul Mayne//File Photo

Earth Sciences professor emerita Gail Atkinson was recently awarded the Harry Fielding Reid Medal by the Seismological Society of America for her lengthy career as one of the world’s most revered seismologists.

Perhaps it is too easy to say that Gail Atkinson was shaken by the news – but the lifetime honour she received was as unexpected as it was deserved.

The Earth Sciences professor emerita was recently awarded the Harry Fielding Reid Medal by the Seismological Society of America for her lengthy career as one of the world’s most revered seismologists.

“I was genuinely astounded,” she said. “When I received an email from the president of the society asking if I had a few minutes to chat over the phone, I was expecting to be asked to serve on a committee or something like that. You can imagine my delight on hearing the reason for his call.”

First presented in 1975, the Reid Medal recognizes outstanding contributions in seismology and earthquake engineering. It is the more than 100-year-old organization’s top honour.

Atkinson, MESc’80 (Civil Engineering), PhD’93 (Geophysics), is widely known as one of the top experts of the stochastic ground motion simulation method, used to predict strong ground motions from earthquakes in regions where seismic data are limited.

Her work underlies seismic hazard probability maps in central and eastern North America, informing new construction and retrofitting building codes.

“Professor Atkinson is an internationally recognized authority on earthquake strong motion,” Stanford University professor William Ellsworth wrote in his nomination of Atkinson. “She has made transformative contributions to engineering seismology in essentially every sub-discipline of the field. There is no question her contributions to ground motion prediction, in the face of sparse and uncertain data, have been extraordinary.”

Having published more than 250 papers, and amassing more than 18,000 citations, Atkinson is one of the most cited researchers in engineering seismology.

In recent years, she has also become a leader in the study of induced seismicity, especially in investigating the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and seismicity in western Canada. This work, which drew together groups from academia, industry and government to collaborate, has made major contributions to this relatively new field within seismology.

“The most amazing thing for me has been the flood of congratulations and good will that has come my way over the last week or so from colleagues at Western, across Canada and around the world,” Atkinson said. “It is so heartening, especially in these times, to know I have spent my career amongst so many kind and generous people. I wish that everyone could be so fortunate.”