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Thursday, October 6, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Anthony Qamar, 62, state's expert on earthquakes

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dr. Anthony Qamar was in his element last month in the crater of Mount St. Helens.

As the volcano oozed lava, Dr. Qamar and his colleagues from the University of Washington hastily set up a network of 40 special seismometers within spitting distance of the dome. A helicopter waited nearby to pluck them to safety, if necessary.

The instruments would help pinpoint the source of small earthquakes rattling the volcano.

On his back, Dr. Qamar carried a key to the expedition's success: a high-accuracy Global Positioning System he devised to precisely map the location of each seismometer.

"He rented a special antenna and rigged it up so it would fit in his pack," said UW seismologist Steve Malone. "Tony loved that type of field work, and he was good at it — good at problem-solving."

Dr. Qamar, Washington's state seismologist, died Tuesday when the car he was riding in was struck by logs that fell off a trailer truck on Highway 101 north of Hoquiam. He was 62. Also killed was 46-year-old Daniel J. Johnson, a fellow scientist who had worked at Central Washington University and the University of Puget Sound.

The two men were on their way to collect instruments used to monitor geologic-plate motion along the Washington coast.

With Malone, Dr. Qamar ran the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network, which monitors earthquakes throughout the region. As state seismologist and a research associate professor, he also taught classes and gave public presentations on Washington's earthquake risks.

His patience and kindness made him a student favorite, recalled Seth Moran, seismologist for the U.S. Geological Survey's Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.

"Tony was somebody you could go to with any question — no matter how stupid," said Moran, a UW alumnus. "You left his office more educated and with your ego intact."

Dr. Qamar was born in Redding, Calif. He completed his high-school studies by correspondence as he traveled the United States and Europe with his mother and stepfather, professional dancers who opened for acts including Paul Anka and Tony Bennett.

In Europe, he developed a love of mountain climbing. He was the first person to ascend several routes, including the west face of rugged North Howser Tower in Canada's Bugaboo Mountains.

But Dr. Qamar rarely mentioned his mountaineering accomplishments, Malone said.

"You'd see his picture in books, and you'd find out: My god, this guy has really done amazing things, yet he was so low-key about it."

In 1980, while working at the University of Montana, Dr. Qamar set up portable seismic and heat-monitoring instruments around Mount St. Helens as the volcano was building toward its massive, May 18 eruption. His work helped fill gaps in the regular seismic network, Malone said.

After joining the UW in 1983, Dr. Qamar quickly became indispensable for his ability to keep the seismology lab running while also improving it, Malone said.

During the excitement that accompanied Mount St. Helens' reawakening last year, Dr. Qamar developed a method to quickly plot the amount of energy the volcano was releasing over time.

"He would dash back to his office, put his head down and basically do the computer programming to develop this," Malone said.

Dr. Qamar is survived by his wife, Kathleen Ellsbury; daughter Muņa Qamar of Brooklyn, N.Y.; half sister Leanna Briggs of Wendover, Nev.; and half brothers Robert Qamar of Redding, Conn., and Laurence Qamar of Portland.

Information on services will be posted at

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company



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