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H. Bolton Seed; Renowned Civil Engineer at UC

April 26, 1989

H. Bolton Seed, a scientist known internationally for his understanding of soil behavior during earthquakes and for sharing that expertise with much of the world, has died of cancer at his home in Orinda, Calif.

The professor of civil engineering at UC Berkeley was 66 when he died Sunday.

"Harry was a giant among civil engineers in the world, that's the only way you can regard Harry Seed," Karl S. Pister, dean of the Berkeley College of Engineering, said in a statement released through the university.

In 1987, Seed, a native of England who became a U.S. citizen, received the National Medal of Science, considered the nation's highest scientific honor. During his career, he received more than 40 international and national awards.

Seed made major research contributions in the fields of structural engineering design, highway engineering, geotechnical engineering and earthquake engineering.

He was part of an international team called in to study the Aswan Dam in Egypt after earthquakes posed questions over its seismic strength. He also served as consultant to the Tarbela Dam in Pakistan, the Oroville Dam in California and the Alaska Pipe-Line Project.

In 1972 he announced that if the San Fernando earthquake had happened a year earlier (Feb. 9, 1970, instead of Feb. 9, 1971), the lower Van Norman Reservoir would have broken through and sent 6 billion gallons of water cascading on the 80,000 people living below. He had studied the soil mechanics of the area and the amount of water (less at the time of the quake) in the reservoir before reaching that conclusion.

Seed graduated from London University in 1947 and from Harvard in 1948. He was a faculty member at London University and Harvard before going to Berkeley in 1950.

In a 1985 interview with United Press International, Seed questioned whether quake experts should disclose their findings or try to predict the future.

He recalled a time when he was living in Berkeley directly atop the Hayward Fault. Nearby, he remembered, lived an elderly couple whose assets were completely tied up in their home. Should he warn them of the potential disaster?

He chose not to, and the husband and wife lived without the additional worry.

Seed, however, moved.

He is survived by his wife, Muriel, a son and a daughter.

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