Synolakis Konstantinos

Position: Professor, Academy of Athens; President at Hellenic American Educational Foundation Athens College-Psychico College

I study natural hazards and extreme events, particularly tsunamis. In my PhD thesis, I developed analytically (with paper and pencil) the so called Synolakis’s law or runup law which relates the maximum elevation solitary waves (a model for tsunamis) reach up on a sloping beach to their offshore height, the depth and the beach slope. The predictions of the law were then confirmed through a series of laboratory experiments. The measurements and the analytical results are now the benchmarks against which most (if not all) tsunami numerical models are tested. The work has over 1000 citations in google-scholar.

At USC, Vasily Titov and I developed the numerical code which then was named MOST which forecasts the tsunami inundation along a shoreline based on the earthquake which triggered the tsunami. MOST is now used operationally by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for real time tsunami forecasts.

Since 1992, my students and I have surveyed every (literally) tsunami with runup heights over 2m around the world, except one in 1996. I have done field work around the Pacific, notably, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Guam, Tinian, Hawaii, French Polynesia, Easter Island, Chile, Peru, Nicaragua, El Salvador, California and Alaska, and in Greece and Egypt.

My field work led to the other transformative research and the paradigm change on the leading wave of tsunamis. Srinivas Tadepalli and I proposed that tsunamis may appear as leading-elevation or as leading-depression waves. The former cause the shoreline to advance, the latter to withdraw first. We also figured out that leading depression waves climb up beaches further than their mirror image leading elevation waves. This proposition was confirmed in field observations during the 2004 Inidan Ocean tsunami. The wave that hit Thailand and Indonesia manifested itself as a leading depression wave, the wave that hit Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Africa, west of the fault arrived as a leading elevation wave.

In terms of administration, from 2011 to 2013, I was the President of the Hellenic Center for Marine Research, the Greek equivalent of NOAA. HCMR had about 500 employees. Despite Greece’s financial woes then, during my presidency the research budget grew by about 40%. Currently, I am President of the Hellenic American Education Foundation which compromises 7 schools and a budget of about $55M.

In 2016, I was elected as a member of the Academy of Athens. The AA is the Greek National Academy and now has 39 members from all disciplines.

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