- © 2012
David J. Leeds, an engineering seismologist known for his extensive studies of soil dynamics and endless efforts to collect and compile earthquake data and documents, died in Santa Barbara, California, on 18 April 2011, five days after his 94th birthday. He helped to expand the EERI Newsletter, and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) recognized his service as editor for nearly 14 years by elevating him to Honorary Membership in 1982.
Graced with an engaging and outgoing personality, his passwords to life were always enthusiasm and adventure. His quick wit, along with a carefully developed sense of humor, made him a well-recognized and remembered figure at the many technical meetings he attended during his career. Good fortune allowed him to continue working in his Los Angeles home into his early 90s. Upon his move to Santa Barbara in 2008, his longevity reached legendary proportions: He had attained 60 years of active membership in both the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Seismological Society of America (SSA), even though he had joined them after his 30th birthday.
David was born on Friday, 13 April 1917, in Colón, Republic of Panama. He was raised in the tightly bonded American community in the Canal Zone with a special twist that was to dominate the rest of his life. His father, a Canal electrician, was also an avid stamp collector who introduced David in early life to philately, an activity enhanced by intense mailings from the many passenger ships in the Canal. He attended Gatún Elementary School, graduated from Cristobal High School in 1935, and received a B.A. degree in geology from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1939. In 1941 he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, served as a communications officer in the Pacific during World War II, and retired as a lieutenant colonel after 30 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
In 1948 David became a geophysicist with the Seismological Field Survey of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, assigned to cover the 11 western states. He was introduced to strong-motion seismology while investigating earthquakes, experimenting with forced vibrations, measuring gravity, and maintaining a strong-motion network in southern California.
In the 1950s David worked as a research engineer at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) with C. Martin Duke, professor of engineering. With Martin, he developed new techniques for measuring shear-wave velocities in soils, and his studies of site effects and amplification spectra led to two papers coauthored with Martin in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, devoted to the 1957 Mexico and 1960 Chilean earthquakes, respectively.
In the early 1960s David joined Dames and Moore in Los Angeles, where he used his knowledge of soil conditions and their effects on earthquake ground motions in a wide range of studies. By listing himself as an “engineering seismologist,” he coined a new professional term. He wrote his first report on site-dependent response spectra in 1962 for Unit 1 of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. In his later projects he visited many countries, including Iran, Turkey, and the Philippines.
David’s consulting career began in the early 1980s. Starting in 1999 he co-authored a series of papers with Larry Porter on the 1994 Northridge earthquake. As a final achievement he combined his knowledge of earth science and stamp collecting to create a special publication for the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering (CUREE), with the help of Darryl Wong, Reed Helgens, and Bob Reitherman. The much-acclaimed result, the 2008 CUREE Calendar—Seismic Philately, was awarded second place in the 2009 EERI Graphics Competition.
David’s wife of 58 years, Arline, died in 2000. He is survived by four children and five grandchildren. His extensive collection of earthquake books, documents, and reports was gifted to the Library of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center, University of California at Berkeley. Donations in his memory can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association: California Central Coast Chapter, 1528 Chapala #204, Santa Barbara, CA 93103; the Postal History Foundation, 920 N. First Ave, Tucson, AZ 85719, www.postalhistoryfoundation.org; or the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA, Box 951567, Los Angeles, CA 90095.