The scientific journal Nature has included Mexican seismologist and “quake chaser” Víctor Manuel Cruz-Atienza on its list of “10 people who mattered this year.”
A researcher at the Institute of Geophysics at the National Autonomous University of México, Cruz-Atienza has dedicated his life and studies to earthquakes.
Cruz-Atienza was 11 years old when the September 19, 1985 earthquake struck, an event that has controlled his destiny.
“The experience of feeling the ground moving has always awakened something instinctive in me,” he told Nature. As a young man, he found himself drawn to geophysics as an undergraduate at UNAM, and went on to study in France and the United States, focusing on the physics of how faults rupture.
Back home, his study and research on the lake basin on which Mexico City sits led him to publish a paper last year. Described as “prescient” by Nature, Cruz-Atienza described how seismic energy from a quake would reverberate around the ancient lake basin.
Simulations Cruz-Atienza ran at the time showed which parts of the city would shake most and for the longest time.
The researcher’s predictions were proven true in September when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck in central Mexico, with an epicenter about 120 kilometers away from the capital.
“Owing to the structure of the basin, the soft sediments were able to sustain shaking longer the farther one got into them,” Nature wrote about the magnified effects the earthquake had in certain areas of Mexico City.
Cruz-Atienza is also part of a Japan-Mexico team and its ambitious seismo-geodetic monitoring network that for the first time will offer reliable and quantifiable data on tectonic activity in the high-risk Guerrero seismic gap.
The new amphibious network has monitoring stations located partially on land and partially beneath the ocean at depths of between 1,000 and 5,000 meters, all aimed to predict the next big earthquake.
“Earthquakes are not fatal, nor are we doomed to the destruction they cause. What’s needed is a paradigm shift and the funneling of more resources to disaster prevention and reduction efforts, resulting in considerable savings in the public resources needed in reconstruction,” he told the website Obrasweb.
Cruz-Atienza is the author of a popular book called Los Sismos: Una Amenaza Cotidiana (Earthquakes: A Daily Threat). In it he wrote: “Each earthquake is a different animal. Each one has its own story and memories.”