Walter Munk sits at his long wooden table in the large entrance to his expansive house on the hillside in La Jolla writing thank you cards to all the “delightful people he met in Sweden.” He has just returned from a lengthy trip to Europe, including a several-day stay in Sweden where he accepted the prestigious Crafoord Prize in Geosciences from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the same committee that determines the winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, and economic science.
Munk didn’t even realize he had been nominated for the Crafoord Prize until he received an unexpected phone call in early January from the president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Gunnar Öquist, who told him to check Google News at midnight to discover some remarkable news. Munk did as he was instructed and much to his surprise he learned he had been awarded the honorable Crafoord Prize.
The academy chose Munk to receive the award “for his pioneering and fundamental contributions to our understanding of ocean circulation, tides and waves, and their role in the Earth's dynamics.”
In early May Munk traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, to accept his award. During the Prize Symposium Munk gave a presentation entitled “The Sound of Climate Change” about the melting of the arctic ice shelves and increasing sea-level rise. He touched on his ideas for future use of acoustics to examine what happens beneath ice shelves around Antarctica and Greenland.
As Munk addressed the audience he told them, “In my lecture, I will not talk about the past, that is too boring. Let’s talk instead about the future!”
Also during the symposium Munk had the pleasure of hearing various young scholars discuss how his lifetime of research on waves, tides, and ocean stratification had influenced their studies and scientific careers.
The following day, His Majesty the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, presented Munk with the Crafoord medal during the prize award ceremony.
Munk finished off his trip by visiting Lund in southern Sweden to visit with the daughter and granddaughter of Anna-Greta and Holger Crafoord who established the fund in 1980 to support the Crafoord Prize with a donation to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The purpose of the fund is to promote basic scientific research worldwide in astronomy and mathematics, geosciences, biosciences, and polyarthritis.
Munk still hasn’t decided what he plans to do with the award money, which is around $500,000, but will donate his medal to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as he has done with all of his previous awards.
“I have no place for them,” he says. “And the institution has supported me throughout my career.”
Adding to a long list of awards received, Munk says the Crafoord Prize and the Kyoto Prize, which he received in 1999, are the two most significant honors of his incredible career. And the accolades haven’t stopped. Shortly after Munk returned home from his European trip he was informed that the San Diego City Council has deemed June 29 as “Walter Munk Day.”
Judging from the steady stream of honors, it seems the world’s “greatest living oceanographer” has no intention of slowing down.