Munk Walter 1917

INFLUENTIAL PHYSICAL oceanographer and geo-physicist, Professor Emeritus of Geophysics and Secretary of the Navy/Chief of Naval Operations Oceanography Chair at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. He made fundamental discoveries in different fields such as the effect of the moon on tides and the circulation of the deep sea. Munk also had a leading role in devising a method for calculating the course of long-term climatic changes related to global warming. In 1999, he became the first in his field to be awarded the Kyoto Prize by the Inamori Foundation.

Born in Vienna, Austria, on October 19, 1917, Munk was sent to preparatory school in New York in 1932. He applied for American citizenship in 1939, after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. His family chose New York as they wanted Walter to follow his relatives' vocation for business and finance. Yet, Munk disliked banking and, after three years, left Columbia University to study physics at the California Institute of Technology, from where he graduated in 1939. Munk then applied for a summer job at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The next year, the director of Scripps, the distinguished Norwegian oceanographer Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, accepted him as a doctoral student, although he warned Munk that there might not be many jobs in oceanography. During the war, Munk was excused from active service in exchange of defense-related research at Scripps. Together with several of his colleagues from Scripps, he developed methods related to amphibious warfare, which were used successfully to predict surf conditions for Allied landings in North Africa, the Pacific theater of war, and, on D-Day during the Normandy invasion. During the testing of nuclear weapons at

Bikini Atoll in the southern Pacific Ocean in 1946, Munk contributed to the analysis of the currents and diffusion in the lagoon and the water exchange with the open seas.

Munk graduated with a Ph.D. in oceanography in 1947. Since then he has spent his whole career at Scripps Institution. In 1947, he became an assistant professor. In 1953 he married Judith Horton and the following year he became a professor of geophysics and also was named a member of the UC's Institute of Geophysics. In 1960, he established a branch of the institute on the Scripps campus in La Jolla. Until 1982, he served as director of the Scripps branch and as an associate director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP). Munk also served as a member of JASON, a prestigious panel of scientists who advised the U.S. government on military strategies.

In the 1960s, Munk focused his research on the attenuation in ocean swells generated in Antarctica. The project measured variations with pressure-sensing devices lowered to the ocean floor. Measurements were also taken at six different Pacific Ocean locations and from FLIP, the Floating Instrument Platform, developed at Scripps. During this decade, Munk began measuring tides in the deep sea, using extremely sophisticated pressure-sensing devices that were dropped to the ocean floor and retrieved by acoustic release.

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