Professor Nicolas Ambraseys

Nicholas (Nick) Ambraseys Dip.Eng DIC PhD FICE FREng, Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Investigator in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and long-term member of the College staff, died peacefully at his home in Putney on 28th December 2012 at the age of 83, after a short illness.

Nick first came to Imperial in the early 1950s to study for a PhD and DIC, which were awarded in 1958. He spent the first three years of his academic career as a lecturer at Imperial, followed by a few years in Greece and the USA, returning to Imperial in 1964, where he remained until his death. He became Professor of Engineering Seismology in 1974 and was Head of the Engineering Seismology Section from 1971 to 1994, when he retired. He remained active until the end, holding grants, supervising PhD students and publishing papers; indeed two manuscripts are currently under review by one of the leading journals in his field.

His research covered earthquakes and their effects on the ground, structures and populations. His early work was concerned with the response of earth dams to earthquakes, particularly large dams in the Himalayas (e.g. at Mangla). However, early on in his career he began studying historical accounts of earthquakes, particularly those occurring in the eastern Mediterranean region, and it is in this field where he arguably made his greatest contributions. His meticulous study of historical documents on earthquakes occurring in the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere (e.g. Central America) is second-to-none and he published many dozens of articles and books on this painstaking work. In 2009 his magnum opus on eastern Mediterranean seismicity, ‘Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East’), comprising almost 1000 pages, was published. While establishing his reputation as the leading scholar of historical seismicity of the Eastern Mediterranean, he continued to work on the assessment of earthquake ground motions and the collection and analysis of strong-motion (accelorometric) data. Much of this work was conducted within the frameworks of the Strong-Motion Working Groups of the European Seismological Commission and the European Association of Earthquake Engineering, which Nick led for much of the past forty years, work which has been very influential for seismic hazard assessment in Europe and the Middle East.

In all his work he sought to act as a bridge between earth sciences and engineering and between research and practice. His approach was influenced by the knowledge and insights he gained during dozens of post-earthquake field missions in various parts of the world, many of which were under the aegis of UNESCO.  These missions led to a series of reports that had an impact on the reconstruction of the earthquake-damaged cities such as Skopje and Managua. His great ability with languages (fluent in three or four and comprehension of many others) was an important factor in sustaining good contacts with people of many nationalities.

In recognition of his lifetime of achievements he was given numerous awards and fellowships from prestigious institutions, for example: Busk Medal for Scientific Discovery from the Royal Geographical Society (1975), Mercenary Award of the European Association of Earthquake Engineering (1975), Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering (1985), Honorary Fellowship of the Society of Earthquake Engineering & Structural Dynamics (1986), Honorary Fellowship of the International Association of Earthquake Engineering (1992), Honoris Causa from University of Athens (1993), Member of the European Academy (1997), Award of the Freedom of the City of Skopje (1998), Harry Fielding Reid Medal of the Seismological Society of America (2006), Fellowship of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Fellowship of the Geological Society and Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society. From his election in 2003 he was an active member of the First Section of the Academy of Athens and he divided his time between London and Athens.

Nick Ambraseys’ contributions to engineering seismology and earthquake engineering were immense, wide-ranging, covered almost 60 years, and he will be sadly missed. The Department, in particular the Geotechnics Section, are planning to recognise his contribution by organising a memorial to him, to coincide with the 2014 Rankine Lecture, scheduled for 19 March 2014.  He is survived by his wife, Xeni.

On  Wednesday March 19 2014  a half-day symposium was held at the Royal Geographical Society in  London,  to commemorate the work of Prof. Ambraseys.  The presentations which were made on that day are now available here.

Areas of expertise

Earthquake hazard assessment, the earthquake resistant design of dams and foundation and strong-motion seismology.


Professor Ambraseys' publications

Professional activities

  • Trained at Imperial as a Civil Engineer and specialising in soil mechanics, joined the staff in 1958. He Reader in engineering seismology in 1968 and Professor in 1974 also at Imperial College.
  • In 1968 he established the Engineering Seismology Section at Imperial and he was its Head between 1971 and 1994.
  • He retired in 1994 and reappointed as Senior Research Investigator at Imperial, a position that he holds today.
  • Professor Ambraseys has published widely (298) and delivered the British Geotechnical Society’s 2004 Rankine Lecture.
  • He has served as a consultant on earthquake engineering problems to industry in the UK and overseas, to the European Commission as well as to the United Nations. Between 1963 and 1986 he lead more than 30 UN earthquake field mission to various parts of the World.
  • He is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, of the European Academy, of the Academy of Athens and the medallist of a number of UK and European learned societies.


Professor Ambraseys has given advice on the following projects:

  • Mamgla Dam Project, Pakistan
  • Kalabagh Dam Project, Pakistan
  • Polyphyto Dam, Greece
  • Hong Kong Water Scheme, Hong Kong
  • Gheshlagh Dam, Iran
  • Sar Cheshmeh Project, Iran
  • Karun II & III Dams, Iran
  • Chira Piura Dam Project, Peru
  • Yarmuouk Valley Project, Jordan
  • Mantaro Irrigation Project, Peru
  • El Mukheibeh Dam, Jordan
  • Hamam Grouz Dam, Algeria
  • Zarqa Project, Jordan
  • Jijel Steel Plant, Algeria
  • Cheliff Dam Project, Algeria
  • Mornos Dam, Greece
  • Stiegler Gorge Project, Tanzania
  • Hong Kong Sewage System, Hong Kong
  • Jamuna Crossing, Bangladesh

Employment history

  • 1994 to present: Senior Research Investigator and Senior Research Fellow Department of Civil Engineering

Academic qualifications

  • 1952: Dipl.Rural Eng., National Technical University, Athens
  • 1956: DIC Imperial College of Science & Technology
  • 1958: Ph.D., University of London
  • 1980: D.Sc (Eng), University of London

Professional qualifications

  • 1985: Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering
  • 1997: Member of the European Academy
  • Member of the Academy of Athens

Professor Ambraseys has been a member of the following committees (selection):

  • 1963 - 1971: Chairman, British National Committee for Earthquake Eng.
  • 1964 - 1975: Vice-President, European Association for Earthquake Eng.
  • 1963 - 1978: Director, International Assoc. for Earthquake Eng.
  • 1977 - 1981: Chairman, Internatl.Commiss. for the Protection of Histor. Monuments (UNESCO/ICOMOS)
  • 1979 - 1981: Vice-Chairman, UNESCO Internatl.Advisory Committee on Earthquake Risk
  • 1964 - 1983: U.K. National Delegate, European Assoc. for Earthquake Eng
  • 1975 - 1985: Royal Society Representative, British Natl.Committee for Geodesy & Geophysics
  • 1961 to present: U.K. National Delegate, International Assoc. for Earthquake Engineering
  • 1979 to present: Chairman, Strong-motion Studies Group, European Association for Earthquake Engineering
  • 1989 - 1993: Member, UK Delegation of the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority

Professor Ambraseys has edited the following publications:

  • Journal for Earthquake Engineering & Structural Dynamics
  • Journal of the European Association for Earthquake Engineering
  • Bolletino Geofisica Pura et Applicata, Trieste
  • Annali di Geofisica, Rome
  • Journal of Soil Dynamics & Earthquake Engineering
  • Journal of International Disaster Studies l Journal Soil Mechanics & Earthquake Engineering

Professor Ambraseys has led the following UN/UNESCO Earthquake Field Missions:

  • Iran (1962, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978)
  • Africa: Uganda, Ruanda, Kenya, Congo, Tanganyika (1962, 1964)
  • Jugoslavia (1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1979)
  • Turkey (1966, 1967, 1969)
  • Nicaragua (1972, 1973)
  • Pakistan (1975; 1977)
  • Italy (1976)
  • Romania (1977)
  • Algeria (1980; 1983)
  • Greece (1969)

Professor Ambraseys has taken part in the following UN/UNESCO major projects

  • 1964 - 1971: Reconstruction of the city of Skopje, Jugoslavia (UN)
  • 1972 - 1973: Reconstruction of the city of Managua, Nicaragua (World Bank)


  • 1975: Busk Medal for Scientific Discovery, Royal Geographical Soc.
  • 1975: Mercenary Award of the European Assoc. for Earthquake Eng.
  • 1992: Hon. Fellow, International Assoc. Earthq. Engineering.
  • 1986: Hon. Fellow, Soc . Eart hq. Eng. & St ruct. Dyn amics, The Inst.Civ.Eng.
  • 19 93: Doct.Hon.Causa, Univ. of Athens.
  • 1998: Award Freedom of the City Skopje, Nov.
  • Fellow, Institution of Civil Engineers (FICE)
  • Fellow, Geological Society, London (FGS)
  • Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS)