19 August 2017
Professor Oldrich Hungr
Posted by Dave Petley
Professor Oldrich Hungr
It was with great sadness that I learnt this week of the passing of Oldrich Hungr, Emeritus Professor of Engineering Geology at UBC, in Grenoble last Friday. Oldrich was one of the most significant landslide scientists, with a string of awards and medals that honour his pioneering work. The landslide world will miss him greatly.
Oldrich completed his PhD at the University of Alberta before moving into consultancy for 15 or so years. From there he moved into academia when he joined the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmosheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia as a Professor of Engineering Geology, where he was to spend the remainder of his career. Oldrich is best known for his work on the mobility of landslides, and in particular for the development of the DAN-W software series that allows the modelling of complex flows. Working with a succession of graduate students, Oldrich refined this model to allow the analysis of the likely runout dynamics of flows across 3D surfaces. This approach is brilliant in its conception and execution, and it has formed the basis of both prospective and back analyses around the world. Oldrich was remarkably modest about this work, but it is fundamentally and practically excellent.
It would be wrong to imply that this was his only significant research contribution. A review of his publications on Web of Science brings up significant and very well-cited papers on the classification of landslides (especially on flow-type slides, and more recently an update to the Varnes classification that is now very much the standard approach); on rockfall hazards; on slope stability analyses; on failure prediction; and on specific landslide events such as the Frank Slide. Oldrich was also a good friend to the landslide community, playing a key role on JTC-1 (the coordinating body for landslide research), organising meetings, editing volumes and of course acting as a critical friend to all. In return the community has honoured him through, for example, the award of the Varnes Medal in 2015 and the Heim Lecture in 2016.
I most recently featured his work in relation to the first of two papers he has written about the Oso landslide. In the aftermath, he and I exchanged emails about the reception that this paper, and my blog post, had received from some quarters. Oldrich was wryly amused, if perhaps a little nonplussed, by aspects of this.
Of course Oldrich was also an educator, and over 50 graduate students have benefited from his dedicated and attentive supervision, and thousands of undergraduates have been inspired by his teaching. Oldrich worked closely with industry throughout his career, providing guidance and advice to many projects both within Canada and more widely.
I have known Oldrich for many years, but most notably in the last three when, together with Suzanne Lacasse, Oldrich and I have constituted the Slope Safety Technical Review Board in Hong Kong. For the last two years we have spent a week working together each autumn in Hong Kong, providing oversight and guidance to the GEO. Oldrich was a wonderful colleague on these occasions. He was deeply dedicated to the task, inspiring and notably perceptive. He had a remarkable ability to identify key issues, and to engage in discussion in a way that was constructive and educative. I learnt a huge amount from him on these occasions; he will be sorely missed when we convene again later this year.
Oldrich was a great friend and an exceptional landslide scientist. He will be an inspiration for decades to come.
This is very sad news indeed. I last spoke with Oldrich and his wife in June in Ljubljana. His contributions have been enormous and, as Dave says, he was incredibly modest. My sympathies to go out to his family and close friends.
Oldrich was a giant in his field and as others have noted, he was very modest about his achievements. He was a friend as well as a colleague. I am diminished by his passing. My condolences to his wife and family.
That’s incredibly saddening news. He was my favorite professor at UBC, and the world is less without him. His calm, affable demeanor made the subject matter inviting and accessible, and his passion for his work was always self-evident. He was so humble that when explaining a subject in class he’d take great pains to avoid mentioning that he’d have carried out much of the research on the topic himself. He will be sorely missed.
Very sad news. Oldrich was a kind, generous and incredibly intelligent man who always helped me and many other in any way he could. You could tell he loved all aspects of geological engineering from being outdoors, to understanding the physical processes controlling the behaviors, to modeling them with computers. He was always adapting and learning new approaches and pushing the envelope of knowledge and technical analysis. I have incredible respect for Oldrich and he will be sorely missed.
A big loss to the landslide community. I had the good fortune to know Oldrich from many meetings, conferences and field excursions. He was very enthusiastic, extremely passionate, and forever modest. My condolences to his wife, family and close friends.
I first met Oldrich in 2002 when I was organising a conference on landslides in Hong Kong. Whilst well known for his modelling programme, including DAN-W, Oldrich was a “real” geologist and we spent the day climbing Tsing Shan with Jon King to look at a long run out debris flow trail. I subsequently worked with Oldrich whilst he worked as part of the HK Government Slope Safety Technical Review Board, he was both insightful and modest…. a rare combination! He will be sorely missed in the landslide community
It is with great sadness that I learned yesterday the passing of Oldrich Hungr. I had the chance to meet him several times at Grenoble during the last ten years, and it has always been a great pleasure for me to spend some time with him. Oldrich was really a nice, clever, and caring man. I remember the day we spent in the Chartreuse mountains, talking about torrents with students. I also remember Oldrich enjoying bicycle trips from his house at Pont-en-Royans to Grenoble to join us. The last time we spoke was in late June this year. Oldrich came to Grenoble to participate to a PhD defense committee, and we had some very instructive discussions with him, as ever. His contribution to the science of debris flows is really impressive and he will be missed to all of us. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.
I have just belatedly learned of the passing of Professor Hungr. Terribly sad news. We had the benefit of his insights during our IAEG C37 meeting in Ljubljana in June this year. I had great pleasure in talking with him over lunch one day during the WLF and managed to persuade him to join the C37 meeting that evening. To all those that knew him far better than I, my humblest condolences to you all. We have lost a great contributor to our practice and art.
i received the bad news with sadness . Big man and real scientist dealing with landslides. big loss for the scientific community