Walter H. Munk, Scientist-Explorer Who Illuminated the Deep, Dies at 101 – The New York Times
Science and Nature

Walter H. Munk, Scientist-Explorer Who Illuminated the Deep, Dies at 101 – The New York Times

Walter Munk in 1963 with a tide capsule. The capsule was dropped to the seafloor to evaluate deep-sea tides ahead of such measurements became feasible by satellite.Credit historyCredit historyAnsel Adams, College of California

Walter H. Munk, just one of the foremost oceanographers of the twentieth century, who despatched pulses of sound by means of the broad oceans — probably startling a handful of whales — to evaluate adjustments in drinking water temperatures, forecast waves and find signs of global warming, died on Friday at his seaside dwelling in the La Jolla segment of San Diego. He was a hundred and one.

The College of California, San Diego, documented his loss of life on its web page. His residence, named Seiche, is around the college campus, wherever he expended his job at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography just after becoming a member of its school in 1947.

“We imagined he would are living eternally,” his spouse, Mary Munk, instructed The San Diego Union-Tribune. She stated the induce of demise was pneumonia.

Dr. Munk, a scientist-explorer who would expound on his discoveries with exuberance, was often referred to as the “Einstein of the oceans” for his groundbreaking work in the analyze of waves, ocean circulation, tides and irregularities in the Earth’s rotation. (He was also a geophysicist.)

In a single sixties examine — which did not have to look far for a topic — he discovered that the waves washing ashore in calculated ranks in Southern California experienced originated hundreds of miles away in storms sweeping across the southern Indian Ocean. The discovery led to enhanced forecasting of the big waves coveted by surfers.

As a youthful scientist through Environment War II, he and Harald U. Sverdrup , the director of Scripps at the time, made a system for predicting the dimensions of the surf on beaches through amphibious landings so that landing craft could prevent becoming swamped.

Dr. Munk, still left, observing an oceanographic instrument in the course of the Capricorn Expedition (1952-1953), somewhere among Eniwetok and Tonga in the Pacific.Credit scoreUC San Diego/Scripps Establishment of Oceanography

The technique was to start with applied in the American landings in North Africa in 1942. It afterwards predicted, correctly, that the waves would be substantial but workable in the course of the D-Day landings by the Allies in Normandy on June 6, 1944. The approach, also employed in amphibious landings in the Pacific, was credited with conserving the life of hundreds of soldiers and Marines.

In his analysis on seem in the oceans starting off in the 1970s, Dr. Munk and his colleagues transmitted small-frequency seems, which at a specific depth can journey hundreds of miles devoid of weakening appreciably.

Because seem moves speedier in heat h2o than in chilly, the technique can measure variances in common temperature in excess of a lengthy distance. Dr. Munk and his colleagues demonstrated its feasibility by transmitting a pulse of sound from a loudspeaker reduced into the drinking water in the vicinity of Read Island in the Indian Ocean in 1991. It was detected by listening stations thousands of miles absent.

“And that was the greatest news that I’ve ever heard,” Dr. Munk informed The New York Moments in 2015. The Listened to Island broadcasts became acknowledged as the “sound heard all over the entire world.”

Walter Heinrich Munk was born on Oct. 19, 1917, in Vienna into a rich banking relatives of Jewish heritage, a son of Dr. Hans Munk and Rega Brunner. The few divorced when Walter was a little one. His maternal grandfather, Lucian Brunner, was a popular banker and Austrian politician. His stepfather, Dr. Rudolf Engelsberg, was later briefly a member of the Austrian authorities of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who was assassinated by Nazi brokers in 1934.

Growing up in Vienna, Walter took frequent outings to the Austrian countryside, and his father served sometimes as a chauffeur to Franz Joseph, the Austrian emperor, all through Entire world War I. “He experienced the only Rolls-Royce in Vienna,” Dr. Munk reported.


Dr. Munk, left, with his mentor, Harald U. Sverdrup, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the late nineteen thirties.CreditSpecial Collections & Archives, University of California, San Diego

At 14 he was despatched to New York to attend an upstate boarding university with the plan that he would inevitably perform at a department of a private New York financial institution linked to his family members. On graduating, he turned a runner at the lender to learn the business from the base up.

But immediately after three decades, for the duration of which he took classes at Columbia College, he resolved that he was not slash out for banking and still left for California. He turned up at the California Institute of Know-how and requested to be admitted, though he experienced not filed an software. The dean, no stickler for treatment, recognized him after he handed the entrance test.

Walter Munk acquired a bachelor’s diploma at Caltech in 1939 (the similar 12 months be became an American citizen), a master’s diploma there a calendar year afterwards and his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, for work carried out at Scripps.

He volunteered for the Army in 1939, but immediately after eighteen months in the ranks he was excused from armed service provider to do investigation on anti-submarine warfare for the Navy. His Military unit was subsequently sent to New Guinea to fight the Japanese and was approximately wiped out.

Dr. Munk’s very first marriage, to Martha Chapin Munk, finished in divorce. His 2nd spouse, Judith, died in 2006 after additional than 50 a long time of marriage. He married Mary Coakley in 2011.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughters Edie and Kendall and three grandsons, U.C. San Diego mentioned. An additional daughter, Lucian, who experienced been born with a coronary heart defect, died at age seven in 1961.


Dr. Munk at his residence in La Jolla, in San Diego, in 2015. He was even now conducting research then.Credit historySandy Huffaker for The New York Instances

Just after the war, Dr. Munk participated in reports of the atomic exams in the Pacific. He and a colleague were given 10 times to evaluate the circulation of drinking water in and out of the Bikini Lagoon just before an atomic check there in 1946, and he witnessed it from a raft ten miles from floor zero. Due to the fact of considerations that an atomic blast might induce a tsunami, he produced a warning process.

In the fifties, he carried out analysis in geophysics, founding an institute for experiments in that subject at Scripps and describing with a colleague why the Earth wobbles on its axis and why its spin may differ slightly.

Dr. Munk was a member of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences. Amid the awards he received had been the Countrywide Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, which he acquired in 1999 for his do the job in bodily oceanography and geophysics. He was the to start with scientist in his discipline to gain the award.

Dr. Munk also engaged in analysis on weather transform, specifically how increasing sea stages have an effect on the Earth’s rotation (measured in millionths of a 2nd for each calendar year). He praised the 2015 Paris weather accords and termed for a international effort to deal with the difficulty.

For the duration of a query-and-remedy session at the College of Delaware in 2016, a reporter questioned him what culture really should do about weather adjust. Dr. Munk replied, “We ought to end melting the ice sheets.”

In one more job interview, in 2009, he reported: “I am very worried that not substantially is becoming accomplished about the heating of the oceans. Two-thirds of the warmth that’s been added in the very last fifty decades has long gone into the ocean, and only one-third in the ambiance. If there wasn’t out there ocean on this planet for heat storage, the warming of the atmosphere would have been 3 occasions as significant.”

All through his career, Dr. Munk shifted into unique parts of research as the spirit moved him.

“You’ll see that I’ve been a dabbler,” he explained in an interview with Scientific American in 1995. He extra: “I’m not much of a scholar. I really do not like to browse. I like to operate in a area that has practically nothing revealed, where you have to determine it out for your self.”

Self-effacingly, he never took to the sobriquet “Einstein of the oceans.”

“Einstein was a wonderful man,” he at the time explained to The Union-Tribune. “I was never on that amount.”

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