European Seismological Commission

In Memory of Andrey Nikonov

Andrey NikonovAndrey Nikonov

(January 21, 1932 – September 24, 2023)

On 24 September 2023, Andrey Alekseevich Nikonov, Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences, Chief Researcher of the Institute of Physics of the Earth of the Russian Academy of Sciences, passed away at the 92nd year of his life.

One more, almost the last, representative of the old academic school has left us. A broadly educated, clever and deeply intelligent scientist, a bearer of the old academic culture of relations with colleagues and students, whose range of interests was unusually wide and, what is more important, it was constantly expanding with time.

Bright, ambiguous, talented - he always attracted attention. His ability to find a non-standard approach to solving problems, high scientific productivity, bright mind and exceptional efficiency Andrey Alekseevich retained until the end of his days. His contribution to science is enormous. Many of his results can be described as "obtained for the first time". No one has ever found so many sites of earthquakes of the past. A.A. Nikonov's works will shine the light the way on geologists and geophysicists for many years.

Andrey Alexeyevich Nikonov is a world-renowned scientist. He made a significant contribution to the development of methods of geodynamics, seismotectonics, study of recent and modern movements of the Earth's surface, seismic and tsunami hazards, obtained previously unknown information about many modern, historical and ancient earthquakes.

A.A. Nikonov is associated with the introduction of the concept of paleoseismology as a synthesis of paleoseismogeological, archaoseismic and macroseismic studies based on written sources. He argued that it is an independent scientific discipline, the main task of which is the quantitative characterisation of earthquakes of the pre-instrumental period based on the integrated use of methods of historical, archaeo- and palaeo-seismology.

A.A. Nikonov was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on 21 January 1932. After graduating with honours from the Faculty of Geography at Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1954, he went to work in the polar region - on the Kola Peninsula, in Apatity, where he entered the postgraduate course at the Geological Institute of the Kola Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Here, under the guidance of Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences A.V. Sidorenko (elected Academician in 1966, Minister of Geology and Protection of Mineral Resources of the USSR in 1962-1976, Vice-President of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1975-1982), who at that time headed the Kola Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences, A.A. Nikonov studied glacial deposits, glacial landforms and palaeogeography of the Kola Peninsula.

In 1962 Andrey Nikonov successfully defended his thesis "Regularities of Quaternary (Anthropogenic) Formation in the West of the Kola Peninsula (Lotta River Basin)" for the degree of Candidate of Geographical Sciences at the Institute of Geography of the USSR Academy of Sciences. A.A. Nikonov continued to work on the Kola Peninsula until 1964. It was during this period that his publications appeared, which made a significant contribution to the study of the anthropogenesis and the history of the last glaciation of the north-eastern part of Fennoscandia.

In 1964 A.A. Nikonov moved to work at the O.Yu. Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth USSR Academy of Sciences. He was accepted to the Tectonophysics Group, part of the Geodynamics Department, as a junior researcher, working under the direct supervision of one of the founders of modern tectonophysics, M.V. Gzovsky. The main topic of his research is modern vertical movements of the Earth's crust in the mountainous regions of Central Asia. He has carried out field studies in the Pamir, Tien Shan, Hindu Kush and Afghanistan on a quantitative basis, with in-depth analysis of the geomorphological features of the area and repeated levelling data.

Having generalised the results of studies of modern movements of the Earth's surface, A.A. Nikonov prepared his dissertation "Holocene and modern movements of the Earth's crust (geological-geomorphological and seismotectonic issues)" for the degree of Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences. It was successfully defended in 1977 at the Faculty of Geology of the Lomonosov Moscow State University.

In 1989 Andrey Alekseevich organised the Laboratory of Paleoseismology at the Institute of Physics of the Earth and was elected its head. From 2015 until the last days of his life, Andrey Alekseevich worked in the Laboratory of Seismic Hazards, where he headed a group of collaborators focused on the study of seismotectonics, strong earthquakes of the past (paleo- and historical periods) and seismic hazards of the European North on the north-eastern and south-eastern flanks of the Fennoscandinavian Crystalline Shield.

In addition to written sources, A.A. Nikonov introduced folklore sources into the practice of earthquake research for the first time. This turned out to be particularly important for the pre-written period, as it significantly increased the depth of macroseismic studies of seismic events in more ancient times.

A.A. Nikonov was one of the first in Russia to successfully apply the radiocarbon method for dating paleoseismic dislocations, thus contributing to its widespread introduction into the practice of paleoseismogeological studies. Now this method has become the main method in palaeoseismogeology.

He formulated the definition of the term "active fault" and considered in detail the problems associated with the identification of active faults. An important innovation was A.A. Nikonov's proposal to extend the time interval for determining the average displacement rate along a fault to several hundred thousand years, as opposed to the previously accepted 10-12 thousand years.

Based on the results of his own research and generalisation of literature data on earthquakes of the pre-instrumental period, A.A. Nikonov introduced a completely new element into the practice of determining long-term seismic hazard - catalogues of palaeoearthquakes compiled on the basis of archaeoseismic and palaeoseismogeological data, and historical earthquakes compiled on the basis of new results. These updated and improved versions of the catalogues have been taken into account in the calculation of the seismic hazard of Russia in the development of a new set of maps of general seismic zoning.

A.A. Nikonov played an important role in the discussion about the seismic hazard of the Crimean nuclear power plant site. The results of his research helped to stop the construction of the plant.

In recent decades, A.A. Nikonov has devoted a great deal of time to studying the seismic hazard of the North-West of Russia, which has recently been considered to be actually aseismic. The data collected by A.A. Nikonov on the activity of faults in the North-West of Russia, paleoseismic dislocations in rocks and seismogenic deformations in young friable sediments, the historical documents found and studied, testify to the occurrence of strong shocks and even tsunamis in this region in the past.

The new direction of A.A. Nikonov's scientific activity, which appeared in the last decade, cannot be ignored - it is about revealing tsunami traces in the Black, Caspian, Baltic and White Seas, as well as in the largest lakes of the country. Previously, it was tacitly assumed that tsunamis could not occur in these places, with the possible exception of the Black Sea. A.A. Nikonov's research has convincingly shown that this is far from the case.

Andrey Alekseevich is one of the authors of the unique publication "Russian Seismological Calendar", the English version of which, revised and supplemented, was presented to all participants (more than 500 delegates from 50 countries) of the 33rd General Assembly of the European Seismological Commission, held in Moscow in August 2012. This edition contains unknown or little known information from the history of the origin and development of Russian seismology.

A talented scientist who laid the foundations for a number of new scientific directions has left us. An era has passed! The bright memory of Andrey Alekseevich Nikonov will remain in our hearts forever.

Prof. Alexey Zavyalov,

Titular member of Russia in ESC



ESC/SSA Travel Grant to attend the 2024 SSA Annual Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska

Apply for the ESC/SSA travel grant by the deadline of 30 November 2023! Seismologists from any member state of the ESC are eligble to apply. We encourage in particular students and early-career researchers to consider applying. More information can be found here.

From the ESC Working Groups:

Visit the website of the WG Preservation, valorisation and analysis of seismological legacy data

Visit the website of the WG Harmonizing Internet Macroseismology in Europe 

Contribute to the Portal of the ESC WG on Communication here

Get to know the website of the FAULT2SHA Working Group and find out forthcoming activities! The WG promotes a new initiative, open to all researchers interested in contributing to discussions on topics that could improve the assessment of seismic hazard.


Find out about the Young Seismologist Training Course here.


What were the past General Assemblies of the ESC like? Find out! Interesting documentation has been made easily accessible.

This list summarizes the files.


Sadly we announce the loss of esteemed and beloved colleagues and friends:

Older obituaries can be found here.