19 August 2017
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.