The Walter Munk Medal

Awarded in Recognition of Distinguished Research in Oceanography Related to Sound and the Sea

WALTER MUNK (1917–2019)

Walter H. Munk (October 19, 1917–February 8, 2019) was an American physical oceanographer and geophysicist. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1917, Walter was sent to the United States in 1932 to attend preparatory school, after which he studied at Columbia University and began work in a New York bank. Unhappy with banking, Munk moved west to study at the California Institute of Technology, where he received a BS in applied physics (1939) and MS in geophysics (1940). In 1939, he applied for a summer job at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he met Harald Sverdrup who became his friend, mentor and doctoral advisor. His planned doctoral study was interrupted World War II, during which he and Sverdrup developed surf forecasting methods that assisted the Allied landings, the beginning of Munk’s lasting research association with the U.S. Navy. After completing his PhD at Scripps in 1947, Walter continued there as an assistant professor, becoming a full professor in 1954, and serving as director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps from 1962–1982.  In his research, Munk made important contributions to an astonishing range of topics, including tsunami monitoring, large-scale ocean circulation, Earth’s rotation, the oceanic lithosphere, ocean waves (including internal waves), tides, ocean mixing, and ocean acoustics (including the development of ocean acoustic tomography). Walter received numerous awards and honors, including election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.K. Royal Society, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, the Arthur L. Day Medal of the Geological Society of America, the Sverdrup Gold Medal of the American Meteorological Society, the first Maurice Ewing Medal of the American Geophysical Union and the U.S. Navy, and many more.  In addition, he was the first recipient of the Walter Munk Award, awarded jointly by the Oceanography Society, the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, in recognition of distinguished research in oceanography related to sound and the sea.

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