Stab Magazine | Walter H. Munk, The “Einstein Of The Oceans”, Dies At 101

Walter H. Munk, The “Einstein Of The Oceans”, Dies At 101

RIP the original surf forecaster.

news // Feb 12, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Today, when you tap in to your go-to surf forecaster, instead of expressing your usual reactive groan, why not spare a moment of appreciation for the great men and women of science who’ve allowed us the ability to somewhat predict the chaotic behaviour of our oceans.

Not only do we now have a system that can adequately predict if we’ll flake out on weekend plans (or create saltier ones), but we have the ability to foresee any incoming conditions that could potentially put property and lives in danger.

While you’re in this silent state, bow your head for Dr Walter Munk, one of the most brilliant minds in 20th century oceanography, who passed away at the age of 101, just a few days ago at his La Jolla home.

Mr Munk spent a lot of his working life based out of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he pioneered the study of waves, ocean circulation, temperature, tides and irregularities of the earth’s rotation. You can think of him as the father of surf forecasting.

That’s Walter on the left, with his mentor, Harald U. Sverdrup, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the 30’s.

Walter was a young scientist during World War II, where he was employed to predict the height of waves that might hamper amphibious landings. His method was used during the D-Day landings in Normandy and is attributed to the survival of thousands of soldiers during the countless invasions that took place in the Pacific during wartime.

Back in the groovy 60’s, Walt proved that certain swells detonating on Californian sandbanks had originated thousands of miles away by turbulent storms in the Southern Indian Ocean. These studies broke the ground that eventually lead to the incredible (occasionally heartbreaking) accuracy of today’s surf forecasting methods.

Dr Munk was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and received many awards including the National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences.

Outliving a century is an outstanding achievement, and although it was pneumonia that took him in the end, there’s little tragedy in a lengthy life well-lived.

Thank you, Dr Munk.


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