Already recognized as the “world’s greatest living oceanographer,” Walter Munk of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is adding a new accolade to his lengthy list of lifetime achievements and recognitions. But while his name has been bestowed upon everything from buildings to ocean science awards, the new honor will take his name to locations around the world’s seas.
The Japanese deep-sea drilling vessel Chikyu recently renamed its science room the “Walter Munk Library” in honor of the 95-year-old scientist, known around the world for groundbreaking investigations of wave propagation, tides, currents, circulation, and other aspects of the ocean and Earth.
“We hope that this will help inspire young scientists and researchers aboard to follow in (Munk’s) pioneering footsteps,” said Wataru Azuma, director of Center for Deep Earth Exploration at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the organization that operates Chikyu.
Launched in 2002, the 210-meter- (688-foot-) long Chikyu features a marine riser and other designs first used by the offshore oil and gas industry to drill deeply on behalf of scientific discovery. Geologists and geophysicists use this capability to extract rarely accessible rock and sediment samples. Such materials carry clues about the planet to help understand its past and more clearly investigate its current motions, chemistry, structure, and microbial communities.
Last September Chikyu set a world record by drilling 2,111 meters (6,925 feet) below the seafloor off Japan’s Shimokita Peninsula, a depth unmatched by previous scientific missions.
Munk visited Chikyu by helicopter last November when it was drilling about 70 miles offshore Japan as part of the Nankai Trough Seismogenic Zone Experiment for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (www.iodp.org).
“Visiting the Chikyu was an exciting adventure,” said Munk, who received his Ph.D. from Scripps in 1947. “I had not been on a drilling vessel since we drilled aboard the CUSS1 off Guadalupe Island fifty years ago. The work aboard the Chikyu is most impressive, and so is the presence of scientists from fifteen countries collaborating on a challenging venture. I was greatly honored to have the ship’s library named for me; it comes at a time when I am keenly aware of the loss of our wonderful Scripps Library. It is nice to know that Scripps is being remembered half way around the world.”
JAMSTEC President Asahiko Taira announced the surprise honor during Munk’s visit.
“It was a real thrill to accompany Walter aboard Chikyu,” said Scripps visiting scientist Holly Given. “He was impressed by everything, including Chikyu’s positioning system, which kept her on station in a five-knot current. The onboard science party was energized by his visit, and their group photo with Walter showed up on Twitter before we left the ship.”