Friday, March 8, 2024

Remembering Thomas C. Hanks

I heard that Thomas C. Hanks passed away recently. He was a mentor to me. He worked for his career with the US Geological Survey. The memorials of him from his colleagues will be many and deep. I wanted to capture some of my memories of him. Tom was very supportive of young scientists and very broad in his scientific thinking. While he was most well known as a seismologist, his work in geomorphology and fault scarps and fragile geologic features was transformative.

This was a sticky on a manuscript draft he once gave me after a discussion on uncertainties in morphologic datting. Look at the nice handwriting (usually from a well sharpened #2 pencil). And the signature THanks.

Tom was on my Ph.D. supervisory committee. I was at Stanford and Tom was in Menlo Park at the USGS. Like many of his colleagues there, he was very generous with his time with the Stanford students. We talked a lot about fault scarps and diffusion, but also about the San Andreas Fault and I was able to drive for him on a few field trips to the SAF in the southern Bay Area into the Creeping Section. With Professor Gordon Brown's support (chair of our department at the time), Tom helped to lead an active tectonics seminar one quarter.

Tom's work on the age of scarplike landforms from diffusion-equation analysis (title of one of his latter papers on the subject) was very influential. He teamed up with Robert Wallace and others to take something simple about how fault scarps apparently change shape over time and quantify it in a realistic way. There are numerous important papers on the topic with Tom as an author but two seminal ones are:
Hanks, T. C., Bucknam, R. C., Lajoie, K. R., & Wallace, R. E. (1984). Modification of wave-cut and faulting-controlled landforms. Journal of Geophysical Research.
Hanks, T. C. (2000). The Age of Scarplike Landforms From Diffusion-Equation Analysis. in Quaternary Geochronology: Methods and Applications. In AGU Reference Shelf 4 (Vol. 4).

Among many other contributions on the age of scarplike landforms, Tom introduced a simple morphological dating approach: reduced slope-offset. He argued for a measure of the scarp midpoint slope (reduced by the far field slope) versus the vertical offset and he developed a nice calibration along with his colleagues for the rate constant k. He favored analytical solutions (tolerating my numerical approach).
One small anecdote that I always appreciated on the geomorphology side was his desire to name a unit for GK Gilbert (1m2/kyr = 1GKG). See the seminal 1984 Hanks et al JGR paper. It did not catch on but was a fun idea.

In 2007, David Haddad and I went with Tom to Northern Arizona University to see the collection of his father's photographs that he had endowed: Repeat Photography Site for The James J. Hanks Photographs, 1927-1928. Tom, like always, was deeply engaged/obsessed with the topic at hand. He worked hard to relocate and repeat his father's photographs, as well as to tell their story.

Whilst on the trip to Flagstaff, Tom, David, and I stopped to see and discuss the Granite Dells (near Prescott, AZ). Tom had been leading parts of the seismic hazard analysis for the Yucca Mountain possible nuclear repository. The problem they were coming up with was the age of the landscape was great (million year old landforms) and there were fragile geologic features and precarious rocks that may have been there fragile for a large fraction of that time. However, the extrapolation of the ground motion predictions would be to extreme, possibly unrealistic levels. Tom was interested in these million-year-old landscapes of fragile geologic features and recognized their value as an observational constraint for seismic hazard analysis. This is an impressive product of their work:
Hanks, T. C., Abrahamson, N. A., Baker, J. W., Boore, D. M., Board, M., Brune, J. N., Cornell, C. A., & Whitney, J. W. (2012). Extreme Ground Motions And Yucca Mountain. Extreme Ground Motions and Yucca Mountain Open-File Report 2013–1245, US Geological Survey.

Tom was interested in precariously balanced rocks given their use as a part of seismic hazard analysis. He thought it might be helpful for new people to get involved. So, he pulled David and I into it. He was supportive and helped generate some funds for us. That lead to a couple of nice papers lead by David. I regret that we did not have Tom as a coauthor:
Haddad, D. E., Akciz, S. O., Arrowsmith, J. R., Rhodes, D. D., Oldow, J. S., Zielke, O., Toke, N. A., Haddad, A. G., Mauer, J., & Shilpakar, P. (2012). Applications of airborne and terrestrial laser scanning to paleoseismology. Geosphere, 8(4).
Haddad, D. E., Zielke, O., Arrowsmith, J. R., Purvance, M. D., Haddad, A. G., & Landgraf, A. (2012). Estimating two-dimensional static stabilities and geomorphic settings of precariously balanced rocks from unconstrained digital photographs. Geosphere, 8(5).

A final lesson from Tom is that senior scientists should be generous and use their privilege to do good with a minimum of self promotion. Tom was a widely appreciated mentor of younger scientists--men and women. He was also a leader who did not shy away from trying to do the right thing. Just one example relates to another senior scientist who recently passed away: Paul Tapponier. Professor Tapponier led a transformation of our understanding of continental tectonics. He favored results with relatively high slip rates and thus the inference that the deformation even in plate interiors was more plate-like. Tom supported his colleague Wayne Thatcher who had come up with a result based on geodesy for the deformation of the Asian continental interior (Thatcher W. 2007. Microplate model for the present-day deformation of Tibet. J. Geophys. Res. 112:B01401) (and that did not sit well with Paul). Zack Washburn and I had written a paper based on paleoseismology that was wishy washy and did not definitely support high or low slip rates along the Altyn Tagh (although we felt like we could not support enough earthquakes to support a high slip rate but did not want to over interpret). Tom stepped in to mediate between Wayne and Paul and consulted me as part of his preparations. Tom had the stature, the intelligence, maturity and deserved respect so that he was able to set the tone for what I gather was a productive meeting.

I ended up with a copy of Tom's USGS bio and I note the following which is a nice example of his writing and matter-of-fact approach:

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