ASCE has honored Costas E. Synolakis, Ph.D., with the 2019 International Coastal Engineering Award for his three-decade-long pioneering efforts in the field of tsunami research, which has not only transformed scientists’ understanding of tsunamis but also saved countless lives.
Synolakis is a global leader in coastal engineering. Over the past three decades he has made significant contributions in the areas of tsunami research and engineering, water wave theory, breaking waves, runup, near-shore ocean processes, erosion related to sea-level change, seismology, marine geosciences and volcanism. His impact is evidenced by the wide adoption of his contributions for tsunami warning, hazard assessment, and mitigation, resulting in many people saved.
In the late 1980s, Synolakis published his seminal analytical solution for the runup of solitary waves up a sloping beach. This brilliant work combined several techniques, and the relevant approximations were confirmed through comparisons with laboratory experiments and numerical modeling. The final result is a simple analytical expression relating the parameters of the initial wave with the maximum elevation and wave runup on a sloping beach. This result is now referred to as Synolakis’ law.
His legacy also includes the MOST (Method Of Splitting Tsunami) model, developed with his students, which is now the standard operational tsunami inundation model for the U.S. Pacific coast and two international tsunami warning centers. In the past decade, he has led or participated in field missions to Java (2006), American Samoa, Samoa (2009), Chile (2010), Mentawai Islands (Indonesia, 2010) and Japan (2011).
In addition to educating and inspiring a generation of coastal engineers, Synolakis is a prolific science communicator for tsunamis and their impact, and this has involved countless lectures, courses, interviews and incisive opinion articles. He has also contributed to television documentaries for prestigious networks such as the BBC, National Geographic, Nova, ZDF, History and Discovery.
The International Coastal Engineering Award is given to an individual who has made significant contributions to the advancement of coastal engineering in the form of engineering design, teaching, professional leadership, research, planning or a combination thereof.