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Obituary | Walter H. Munk | 1917-2019
‘ Walter H. Munk, an ocean- Garrett-Munk formulation of the ocean internal wave spectrum.
l ographer and geophysicist In the mid-1970s, he was lured into the world of ocean acous-
\ who made seminal contri- tics through his participation in JASON (a scientific advisory
E ‘ butions to ocean acoustics, group to the Department of Defense), which at the time ms
' physical oceanography, and working on antisubmarine warfare. He was among the first
geophysics over a career to realize that internal waves cause sound-speed fluctuations,
spanning nearly 80 years, leading to fluctuations in acoustic signals. He, together with
, died at his home in La Iolla, Carl Wunsch, invented ocean acoustic tomography to study
CA, on February 8, 2019. at the ocean mesoscale. He subsequently proposed that acous-
the age of 101. tic transmissions be used to study ocean  on global
scales and led the 1991 Heard Island Feasibility Test (H_l.FT) in
Walter was born on October 19, 2017, in Vienna, Austria. He which transmissions from near Heard Island in the southern
was sent to the United States at age 14 to finish  school. Indian Ocean wererecorded on receivers in both the Pacific and
Afler an unhappy time at a financial firm in which his grand- Atlantic. The HIFT was followed by the decade-long Acoustic
father was a partner, he applied to the California Institute Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) series of experiments
of Technology (Cal Tech), Pasadena, graduating in 1939 in in the North Pacific.
applied physics. Walter first came to the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Iolla, Walter received every conceivable honor, from the National
in 1939 for a summer job. He obtained a masters degree from Medal of Science to the Kyoto Prize to the Crafoord Prize. He
Cal Tech in 1940 before returning to Scripps, where the direc- was an Honorary Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America.
tor, Harald Sverdrup, accepted him as a PhD student. The United States Navy and The Oceanography Society estab-
lished the Walter Munk Award for Distinguished Research
Believing that war was imminent. Walter enlisted in the Army. in Oceanography Related to Sound in the Sea in his honor.
He was discharged in December 1941, one week before Pearl
Harbor, to join the University of California Division of War Munkwas preceded in death by wife Judith, who died in 2006,
Research. During the war, Walter and Sverdrup developed a and daughter Lucian, who was born with a heart defect and
system to forecast wave conditions in preparation for the Allied died at the age of 7 in 1961. He is survived by daughters Edie
landings inAfrica. Their methods successfully predicted that of La Iolla and Kendall of State College, PA; three grand-
the conditions for the D-Day landing in Normandy would sons Walter, Lucien, and Maxwell; and current spouse Mary
be rough but manageable. Walter received his PhD in 1947. Coakley Munk.
He spent his entire career at Scripps, founding and serving as
director of the La Iolla Laboratories, institute of Geophysics A more complete account of Walter's life, including a list
and Planetary Physics, from 1962 to 1982. of selected publications, is available i.n Spindel, R. C., and
Worcester, P. F. (2016). Walter H. Munk: Seventy-five years
Walter made contributions to so many fields that there aresome of exploring the seas. Acoustics Today 12, 36-42.
who thinkthat there was more than one Walter Munk. In the  
early 1950s, he made fundamental contributions to our under- Written by:
standing of the wind-driven ocean circulation, coining the term Peter F. Worcester
"ocean gyres." He then became interested in the irregularities in Email:
the earth’s rotation (wobble and spin), which form an elegant Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
remote sensing tool from which one can infer information University of California, San Diego, La Iolla
about the Earth’s core, its air and water masses, and global winds. Robert C. Spindel
He made pioneering measurements of ocean swell (1958-1968) Email:
and deep-sea tides (1964-1974). He was one of the initiators Applied Physics Laboratory,
of 1962 Project MOHOLE to drill into the Earth's mantle. ln University of Washington, Seattle
the early 1970s, Walter and Christopher Garrett devised the ’ 
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