Costas Synolakis

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Gordon S. Marshall Professor of Engineering Technology and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering


  • 1979, Master's Degree, Civil Engineering, California Institute of Technology
  • 1978, Bachelor's Degree, Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology
  • Doctoral Degree, Civil Engineering, California Institute of Technology


Costas Synolakis studies the impact of natural hazards, and particularly tsunamis and extreme flooding events on beaches. He has led or participated in about 30 scientific expeditions in twenty one countries, practically in all of the world's oceans and seas. His work in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Aleutian islands, the Marquesas, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Kenya and Oman was groundbreaking and highly cited.

Professor Synolakis grew up in Athens, then attended the California Institute of Technology, where he did all his professional degrees. In 1985, he was appointed as assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at USC. In 1996, he was appointed Professor of Civil, Mechanical, Environmental and Aerospace Engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering.

In 1996, Costas Synolakis founded the USC Tsunami Research Center. Its main accomplishments have been : One, the development of MOST, the operational code used by the US-based and Australian based tsunami warning centers for tsunami forecasts, and two, the production of all official State maps for California for evacuation planning. In the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the TRC for three days, held 70% of USC's went traffic, being then the only university center worldwide focused on tsunamis. In fact, USC shut down the site for a few hours, suspicious that it was subject to a cyber attack - the TRC received 35 million "hits" from people interested in tsunamis, worldwide in three days,

In the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, Professor Synolakis was appointed in the only Chair in Greek universities at the time, on natural hazard mitigation. The Laboratory which he founded studies extreme events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, fires and the impact of waves on beaches, particularly erosion, as well as wildfire evolution. The results the Laboratory has generated from its nearshore field measurements of wind waves and currents, they are being now exploited in Greece to address the problems of coastal erosion and extreme marine-related floods. He holds this appointment in parallel and teaches at TUC whenever he is on leave from USC.

Professor Synolakis has received both major awards of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the 2015 Moffat and Nichol Coastal Engineering Award and the 2019 International Coastal Engineering Award. In 2014, he received the Sergey Soloviev Medal of the European Geophysical Union.

Professor Synolakis now holds the Chair of Earth Sciences in the Academy of Athens, and in 2018, he is the President of the Division of Natural Sciences of the Academy. Since 2019, he is the Secretary. The Academy of Athens only has 40 members from all letters, arts, sciences, medicine and engineering discipline, and is the Greek National Academy. He is also a member of the Academia Europae and is the Chair of the National Committee on Climate Change of Greece.

Research Summary

Keywords Tsunamis; inundation field surveys; numerical modeling; analytical modeling; hazard assessment, mitigation and planning; crisis and emergency management. Breaking waves. Beach erosion. Nearshore wave and currents measurement. Fire evolution modeling.

Professor Synolakis early work concentrated on analytical solutions for the climb of solitary waves on plane beaches. Solitary waves were then believed to be a realistic model of tsunamis. He developed the relationship between the height of the solitary wave, the beach slope and the offshore depth now known as Synolakis's law. This work is highly cited.

With his PhD students at the University of Southern California, he developed the computational suite of codes MOST (Method of Splitting Tsunami)[3][4][5]. MOST is in operational use by the warning centers of the National Weather Service of the US. Since 2013, all tsunami flooding forecasts in the US are based on MOST, as are operational forecasts by the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne, Australia.

Professor Synolakis's current work focuses on understanding unusual tsunami amplification phenomena, such as the enhanced runup on coastlines fronted by islands.

Costas Synolakis and his students at TUC and USC have participated in public outreach efforts worldwide with lectures in school and civil defense agencies. They have also starred in tens of documentaries for natural hazards and particularly for tsunamis and beach erosion produced by the National Geographic, Smithsonian, Discovery, Nova, BBC, ZDF, History and the Weather Channel. He has authored 9 editorials for the Wall Street Journal, and he has been quoted or interviewed over 50 times by the New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, Der Spiegel, Die Welt, El Pais, Le Monde, Nature, Science, Science News and hundreds in Greek national media.


  • 2019 Academia Europaea Memberm, Academia Europaea
  • 2017 Academy of Athens Member, Academy of Athens
  • 2015 American Society of Civil Engineers ASCE Moffatt Nichol Harbor and Coastal Engineering Award
  • 2014 EGU 2014 Soloviev Medal of the European Geophysical Union
  • 2010 STATUS Man of the Year for the Environment
  • 2001 The County of Los Angeles Award on Leadership in Emergency Preparedness
  • 1989 The White House Presidential Young Investigator
  • 1981 The Alexander Onassis Public Benefit Foundation Fel lowship
  • Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

  • KAP 206C
  • Kaprielian Hall
  • 3620 South Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089
  • USC Mail Code: 2531

Contact Information
  • (213) 740-0613


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