Giovanni Occhipinti, Ninto to all his colleagues and friends, died in a traffic accident on December 23, 2021, while traveling to his native Sicilian town, Ragusa, to celebrate Christmas with his family.
Ninto was a beacon of light for many of his colleagues, kindly and generously eclectic, perpetually enthusiastic and brimming with ideas that he loved to share. His open-mindedness and humor were in all his exchanges. Many of his colleagues and students have fond memories of meetings, classes, the geo-radar field camp or just discussions with Ninto that were very pleasantly animated. He was also one of the world's leading experts in the couplings between Earth’s interior and the ionosphere, and more particularly the couplings between tsunami and ionosphere.
Ninto discovered Earth sciences during an Erasmus stay at the Institut de physique du globe de Paris (IPGP) during his Bachelor in Physics and then during the research internship of his Laurea in Physics, both from the University of Bologna. His thesis at IPGP launched him into the emerging science of ionospheric signals generated by earthquakes, now known as ionospheric seismology. As often in his career, Giovanni summed up his early work with a shocking formula: “a pinch of gravity in a good plasma sauce…”. He quickly achieved first-order results with the first detection and modeling of the ionospheric signature of a tsunami (Occhipinti et al., 2006, 2008), then the first detection and modeling of Rayleigh waves in the ionosphere with an over-the-horizon radar (Occhipinti et al., 2010), carried out in close collaboration with the French aerospace lab (ONERA). To make this observation, Ninto had not hesitated to implement one of his main principles, always to try his luck: upon receipt of the alert for the second great earthquake in Sumatra, on March 28, 2005, jumping in a taxi, he reached the Nostradamus radar command center as quickly as possible. Although he missed the first surface wave train R1, he arrived in time to program the radar and record the signal from the second train R2...
After a postdoc at Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ninto obtained in 2008 an associate professor position at the University of Paris, where he continued his career in the Planetology and Space Sciences team of the IPGP. His enthusiasm then made him known to the media as a "Jack-of-all-trades scientist with an improbable look", as reported in this interview with Liberation. He had great ambitions, and wanted to "improve, with new techniques, the early warning of tsunamis", as recalled in the notice from the Institut Universitaire de France, of which he had been a junior member since 2016.
Since 2010, the publications of Giovanni Occhipinti with his PhD students, postdoc and close collaborators in France and abroad, show that he was particularly well committed on this path, with the systematic analysis of ionospheric tsunami signals (Occhipinti et al., 2013, Coïsson et al., 2011, Eisenbeis & Occhipinti, 2021, Kherani et al., 2012, Makela et al., 2011, Rolland et al., 2010), the first modeling with oceanic bathymetry of airglow generated by the Great 2011 Tsunami in Japan (Occhipinti et al., 2011), the invention of a new magnitude in seismology (the ionospheric magnitude, Occhipinti et al., 2018) and more recently, the development of new rapid methods of characterization ionospheric tsunamigenic earthquakes (Manta et al. , 2020, Ravanelli et al., 2021), the latter initiated in collaboration with his colleagues from University of Rome La Sapienza. Thanks to its impetus, real-time monitoring of the ionosphere will one day be carried out by the GPS stations of the Observatory of Guadeloupe network.
For ionospheric seismology, a discipline of which he contributed to the foundations, including with several reviews (Occhipinti, 2011, 2015, Jin et al., 2015, Hebert et al., 2021), Ninto was the most original of the ambassadors: he initiated thus numerous international collaborations which contributed to the expansion of this new approach in seismology, in particular during stays as visiting professor at the Earthquake Research Institute (ERI) of the University of Tokyo and at the University of Rome La Sapienza.
But Ninto's scientific field is not limited to ionospheric seismology applied to the study of tsunamis. His research among other (see a full publications list here) has also led him to study the ionospheric signals of eclipses (Eisenbeis et al., 2019, Eisenbeis & Occhipinti, 2021) and volcanic eruptions (Manta et al., 2021) and to continue, with ONERA, working on the contribution of over-the-horizon radars for the tomography of the ionosphere (Roy et al., 2014) and the detection of surface waves (Bourdillon et al., 2014, Occhipinti et al., 2018). Ninto was even passionately dedicated to the study of the COVID crisis (Supino et al., 2020), his second publication as co-author in the medical field (Nobile et al., 2008).
As a tireless architect of the dissemination of scientific culture, Ninto was also a weekly reporter for several sciense radio shows on national radio: Un Jour Tout Neuf (France Inter, 2010-11), La Tête au Carré (France Inter, 2012-13), Le Futur it's Now (NOVA, 2015-16), as well as Recherche En Cours (Radio Aligre, 2008-9), and more recently in the web-magazine Post-Ap Mag.
Internally at IPGP, Ninto was also an enthusiastic co-organizer of the annual meetings between ERI and IPGP. For two years, he was a hyperactive co-organizer of the Natural Hazards Coffees seminars of the Natural Risks Theme.
Ninto was brimming with ideas and still had so much to do and share in all of these areas and in the Earth sciences. His death leaves a great emptiness. The Institut de physique du globe de Paris will never forget this very endearing personality and the particularly creative scientist he was. All its faculty and staff send their deep condolences to his parents and family.
With former close collaborators and students of Ninto,
Marc Chaussidon, Director of the Institut de physique du globe de Paris.
See also the French and Italian versions