Walter Munk, pioneer of oceanography, passes away at 101

February 11, 2019 | Environment
Walter Munk: a genius of the oceans | Photo: Jepsen/UC San Diego

Walter Munk, one of the pioneers of oceanography and surf forecasting, passed away at 101, at Seiche, in La Jolla, San Diego, California.

Walter Heinrich Munk was born on October 19, 1917, in Vienna, Austria. In 1932, he was sent by his parents to New York. They wanted him to follow the family's footsteps in banking.

"My mother exiled me because I was doing very poorly in high school, and the reason I think was that I enjoyed skiing so much," Munk once told.

However, Munk hated the financial business and ended up at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. In 1940, he earned a master degree in geophysics.

But, while working at the Scripps at the U.S. Navy Radio and Sound Laboratory, Munk and his colleagues developed methods and formulas for predicting ocean conditions in any given location.

The surf forecasting techniques initiated at Scripps were used by Allies to plan the Invasion of Normandy, the critical chapter that even led to the defeat of the Nazis.

The American and British oceanographers were able to indicate the best date for D-Day, and improve the assault conditions of the largest amphibious invasion in history.

In 1947, and a couple of years after the end of World War II, Walter Munk completed his Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Einstein of the Ocean

In the following decades, the "Einstein of the Ocean" would participate in multiple research and development activities involving ocean circulation and currents, the study of the sea floor, and the behavior of ocean waves.

For many, Walter Munk is the father of surf forecasting. The Austrian oceanographer began his studies in a time where there were no computers, and all wave forecast predictions were drawn by hand.

Between the 1970s and the 1990s, Munk dedicated his time to ocean acoustic tomography, tide patterns, and the relationship between ocean temperature and sea levels.

Recently, Water Munk was involved in raising awareness about the problems associated with global warming.

In 2017, the city of La Jolla dedicated a section of its boardwalk to the legendary oceanographer - the Walter Munk Way.

"The CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere now is producing a rate of sea-level rise so that the Walter Munk Way is not going to enjoy another 100 years," he said at the time.

He is survived by his daughters Edie Munk and Kendall Munk, and three grandsons.

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