Earth Observatory Blog
Professor Kerry Sieh Receives the AEG Honorary Membership
Professor Kerry Sieh choked up as he recalled picking up a small piece of mirror while an excavator tried to dig out 70 kids under a collapsed school at an earthquake site in Padang, Indonesia, in 2009. Experiencing the pain and grief of the locals in the aftermath of natural disasters, the dream of a young Kerry to make the world a safer place was never more appropriate.
Frequent visits to his grandparents’ farms at a young age helped shape who he is today. “All the unstructured play on the farms and in the woods — like having to figure out how to cross a stream without getting wet or how to catch a fish with my hands and not drown — gave me a strong attraction to nature and to solving natural puzzles,” said Prof Sieh in an interview with Earth Magazine in 2014. Being a geologist gave him the best of both worlds – staying close to nature and solving the puzzles Mother Nature dishes out.
In the early 1970s, most earthquake scientists depended on analysing squiggles on a seismogram to study the size and locations of earthquakes. Already ahead of his time, Prof Sieh decided to use a different geological method. He studied layers of dead fibrous materials that had been squished and deformed by violent earth movements and determined their age through dating techniques. His PhD work in paleoseismology added a new dimension to earthquake science, enabling scientists to profile the timelines, recurrence and dormant periods of earthquakes. Working at Earth Consultants International, Prof Sieh and the team developed a proposal for the design of the Alyeska oil pipeline, which included fault displacement mitigation measures. This helped the pipes to survive the Denali earthquake 30 years later.
After spending almost three decades at California Institute of Technology, Prof Sieh took up the challenge to set up the Earth Observatory of Singapore. In a Straits Time article dated 29 March 2008, he mentioned that being here in Singapore would bring him right next to “the big earthquake experiment” – Indonesia, where it is known as “a hot spot for giant earthquakes”. Working with stakeholders in regions like Sumatra, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Phuket, the research data collected could go a long way in disaster preparedness and mitigation for the local communities.
Prof Sieh is one of the authors for two books - The Earth in Turmoil: Earthquakes and Volcanos and Their Impact on Humankind, and The Geology of Earthquakes. He is also one of several contributors to Living on an Active Earth: Perspectives on Earthquake Science. These books allowed his insights and knowledge to reach a wider range of audience. Through innumerable talks on the implications of geologic hazards to service, insurance, public, and professional groups, he did not simply deliver content and raise awareness, but also inspired his audience with his passion, drive, and love for geology.
On 20 September 2018, Prof Sieh was awarded the Honorary Membership by the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists (AEG) at the 61st AEG Annual Meeting and 13th International Association for Engineering Geology and the Environment Congress in San Francisco. His notable academic achievements include hundreds of published papers, awards from multiple professional societies, as well as memberships and fellowships of professional societies. His dedication and work fit the criteria of an Honorary Member of AEG, which is given to exceptional individuals who have “contributed long, distinguished, and outstanding service to the advancement of Environmental and Engineering Geology”.
Being awarded the Honorary Membership of AEG gives a pat on the back of a man who continues to dedicate his life to making the world a safer place.