"Walter H. Munk, Scientist-Explorer Illuminated the Deep, Dies at 101-NewYork Times-By William Dicke"
The University of California, San Diego, reported his death on its website. His home, named Seiche, is near the university campus, where he spent his career at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography after joining its faculty in 1947.
“We thought he would live forever,” his wife, Mary Munk, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. She said the cause of death was pneumonia.
Dr. Munk, a scientist-explorer who would expound on his discoveries with exuberance, was sometimes called the “Einstein of the oceans” for his pioneering work in the study of waves, ocean circulation, tides and irregularities in the Earth’s rotation. (He was also a geophysicist.)
In one 1960s study — which did not have to look far for a subject — he discovered that the waves washing ashore in measured ranks in Southern California had originated thousands of miles away in storms sweeping across the southern Indian Ocean. The discovery led to improved forecasting of the big waves coveted by surfers.
As a young scientist during World War II, he and Harald U. Sverdrup , the director of Scripps at the time, developed a method for predicting the size of the surf on beaches during amphibious landings so that landing craft could avoid being swamped.
The method was first used in the American landings in North Africa in 1942. It later predicted, correctly, that the waves would be high but manageable during the D-Day landings by the Allies in Normandy on June 6, 1944. The technique, also used in amphibious landings in the Pacific, was credited with saving the lives of thousands of soldiers and Marines.
In his research on sound in the oceans starting in the 1970s, Dr. Munk and his colleagues transmitted low-frequency sounds, which at a certain depth can travel thousands of miles without weakening significantly.
Because sound moves faster in warm water than in cold, the technique can measure differences in average temperature over a long distance. Dr. Munk and his colleagues demonstrated its feasibility by transmitting a pulse of sound from a loudspeaker lowered into the water near Heard Island in the Indian Ocean in 1991. It was detected by listening stations thousands of miles away.
Dr. Munk’s first marriage, to Martha Chapin Munk, ended in divorce. His second wife, Judith, died in 2006 after more than 50 years of marriage. They had two daughters. He married Mary Coakley in 2011.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughters Edie and Kendall and three grandsons, U.C. San Diego said. Another daughter, Lucian, who had been born with a heart defect, died at age 7 in 1961.
After the war, Dr. Munk participated in studies of the atomic tests in the Pacific. He and a colleague were given 10 days to measure the circulation of water in and out of the Bikini Lagoon before an atomic test there in 1946, and he witnessed it from a raft 10 miles from ground zero. Because of concerns that an atomic blast might cause a tsunami, he developed a warning system.
In the 1950s, he carried out research in geophysics, founding an institute for studies in that field at Scripps and explaining with a colleague why the Earth wobbles on its axis and why its spin varies slightly.
Dr. Munk was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Among the awards he received were the National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, which he received in 1999 for his work in physical oceanography and geophysics. He was the first scientist in his field to win the award.
Dr. Munk also engaged in research on climate change, particularly how rising sea levels affect the Earth’s rotation (measured in millionths of a second per year). He praised the 2015 Paris climate accords and called for a global effort to deal with the issue.
During a question-and-answer session at the University of Delaware in 2016, a reporter asked him what society should do about climate change. Dr. Munk replied, “We should stop melting the ice sheets.”
In another interview, in 2009, he said: “I am very concerned that not much is being done about the heating of the oceans. Two-thirds of the heat that’s been added in the last 50 years has gone into the ocean, and only one-third in the atmosphere. If there wasn’t available ocean on this planet for heat storage, the warming of the atmosphere would have been three times as big.”
Throughout his career, Dr. Munk shifted into different areas of research as the spirit moved him.
“You’ll see that I’ve been a dabbler,” he said in an interview with Scientific American in 1995. He added: “I’m not much of a scholar. I don’t like to read. I like to work in a field that has nothing published, where you have to figure it out for yourself.”
Self-effacingly, he never took to the sobriquet “Einstein of the oceans.”
“Einstein was a great man,” he once said to The Union-Tribune. “I was never on that lev