Muawia Barazangi, ‘soul’ of geological sciences, dies at 80

Muawia Barazangi, professor emeritus of earth and atmospheric sciences, died March 30 in Ithaca at the age of 80.

Barazangi arrived at Cornell in 1972 as part of the rebirth of geological sciences in the College of Engineering. After receiving a Ph.D. in seismology from Columbia University, he became a senior scientist at Cornell and attained the rank of professor in 1998. He was awarded emeritus status upon his retirement in 2009.

Muawia Barazangi

“He was a major contributor to, and often the spice in, the new department’s rapid development into a leading international research institution,” said Larry Brown, the Sidney Kaufman Professor in Geophysics. “He was a wonderful mentor, a cherished colleague, a dear friend and – in many ways – the soul of geological sciences at Cornell.”

Barazangi’s most renowned research at Cornell was on seismotectonics at regional and global scales, including seismicity of the earth, geometry and structure of subducted plates at converging plate boundaries, intraplate structure and tectonic activities, active continental collisions zones, historical earthquakes, paleoseismology and trenching of active faults, and evaluation and assessment of earthquake hazard. He also initiated and participated in the development of a comprehensive Geographic Information System for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Muawia’s research in mapping on the deep earthquakes of western South America is one of the observational cornerstones of modern plate tectonics theory,” Brown said. “His extensive work on the geology and geophysics of North Africa and Middle East is now the foundation of both academic research and resource exploration for this area.”

Aside from his research, Barazangi made a lasting impact by mentoring students and junior faculty, said Matthew Pritchard, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences.

“He cared in so many ways,” Pritchard said. “Muawia could always be counted to come to student seminars and ask thoughtful questions and work with students to improve their presentations. He had an infectious sense of humor that often involved him saying that ‘You can yet be turned into a seismologist.’"

Barazangi helped train innumerable graduate students, research staff and scientists, mentoring them in assessing the probabilities of earthquakes in order to raise awareness among officials and environmentalists about the risks and the imperative of enacting building codes. He also mentored researchers in analyzing data and writing scientific reports, helping them to author and co-author more than 130 research papers in numerous scientific journals and monographs.

“Professor Barazangi was one of our department's more prominent scholars,” said Geoff Abers, the William and Katherine Snee Professor in Geological Sciences and the chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “He was also a warm, deeply caring individual who made an impact on many people’s lives. He will be missed.”

Barazangi is survived by his wife, Nimat Hafez Barazangi, Ph.D. ‘88; and his daughter, Nobl Barazangi ’94.

Patrick Gillespie is a communications specialist for the College of Engineering.

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Becka Bowyer