Around the Pier: A Crowning Event to Celebrate Scripps Oceanographer's 100th Birthday

Walter Munk joined Scripps Institution of Oceanography as a young doctoral student in 1939 in what would start a nearly eight-decade-long career of scientific discovery, daring science, and transforming how the world understands the ocean. The oldest living alumnus of the University of California San Diego, Munk will turn 100 this year, and the science icon is being honored by the university at multiple events throughout 2017.

On October 26 at 11:30 a.m., UC San Diego will welcome His Serene Highness (H.S.H.) Prince Albert II of Monaco to campus for a Centennial Conversation with Walter Munk at the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment at Scripps Oceanography. The two will present a dialogue on exploring the seas and the importance of oceanographic research.

Often called the world’s greatest living oceanographer, Munk is known for inventing the science of wave forecasting with former Scripps director Harald Sverdrup, which helped Allied troops plan amphibious invasions. In 1943, Munk created the first wave prediction course and trained American military meteorologists at Scripps Oceanography, including those who would later predict conditions for World War II D-Day landings in Normandy. Munk’s wave prediction methods remain in use today in surf forecasts made daily on coastlines around the world.

Munk also pioneered tide prediction, and many aspects of ocean acoustics, ocean circulation, and deep-sea tides. Recently, he has explored the relationship between changes in ocean temperature, sea level, and the ocean between ice sheets and the seafloor. Known for his endless curiosity, Munk still conducts research today.

Munk’s work is also a nexus of the strong partnership between Scripps Oceanography and the U.S. Navy that began prior to World War II. Scripps science sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, the development of observational instrumentation for the Department of Defense, improvement of computational methods and forecasts, and conducting at-sea research that improves the understanding of sound in the ocean are among several areas of study informed by Munk’s work. Scripps also operates a fleet of two Navy-owned research vessels, including R/V Sally Ride, a state-of-the-art global research vessel launched in 2016. Educational programs have also continued to supported active duty officers.

“We are honored to host His Serene Highness Prince Albert II at UC San Diego and thankful that he will join us in lauding Walter Munk as we celebrate his centennial birthday,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “The Principality of Monaco has a long history of oceanographic research and conservation. This commitment to scientific discovery and conservation are values we share at UC San Diego, and have been lifelong attributes of Walter Munk.”

The Principality of Monaco first became involved with ocean conservation with Prince Albert I, who devoted his time and resources to oceanography. He financed the construction or acquisition of four vessels used for oceanographic expeditions and personally took part in more than 20 oceanographic expeditions at the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century. In 1910, he created the Oceanographic Institute in Paris and the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco. In 2001, Munk became the first recipient of the Prince Albert I Medal presented by the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans.

Prince Albert I’s tradition is carried on by Prince Albert II.  In 2006, he created the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, dedicated to preserving the environment and promoting sustainable development. Earlier this year at the United Nations Ocean Conference, Prince Albert II launched Monaco Explorations, a three-year campaign of scientific explorations to remote locations at sea. H.S.H. Prince Albert II has a passion for scientific expeditions and is the only head of state to have visited both the North Pole and the South Pole.

In 2009, Scripps Oceanography presented H.S.H. Prince Albert II with the Roger Revelle Prize in recognition of his efforts to raise environmental awareness and advance scientific understanding of our planet. Prince Albert II and Scripps also co-presented a pair of workshops in 2014 focused on sea-level rise issues. The prince, Munk, and Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen participated earlier this year in the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York, in which dozens of countries presented commitments to conserve and sustainably use the oceans.

“His Serene Highness Prince Albert II and Walter Munk are passionate advocates for exploration and the importance of seafaring science – getting out to sea to conduct research,” said Leinen, who also serves on the scientific steering committee that advises Monaco Explorations on scientific programs. “Between Walter’s encouragement of new generations of scientists and the Prince’s commitment to scientific exploration for conservation, this will be an inspiring dialogue on the power of science for societal advancement and the history of the beginning of ocean exploration.”

Attendance at the Centennial Conversation with Walter Munk and His Serene Highness Prince Albert II is by invitation only, but the event will be available to all via livestream at Additional events planned to celebrate Munk’s 100th birthday, which falls on October 19, 2017, include

Walter Munk Way Dedication (Wednesday, October 18): The official dedication of the La Jolla Shores boardwalk, to be named Walter Munk Way, will occur at Kellogg Park at La Jolla Shores at 3:00 p.m. with Munk and city and state officials including San Diego City Councilmember Barbara Bry (District 1), State Assemblymember Todd Gloria, and California State Senator Toni Atkins. The public is welcome to attend the dedication.

  • Birch Aquarium Munk Birthday Celebration (Thursday, October 19): Visitors of Birch Aquarium at Scripps will receive complimentary cupcakes in honor of Munk’s 100th birthday, and Walter Munk will join the festivities at the aquarium at 2:00 p.m. Free for members, and included with admission.
  • Walter Munk Tour of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Saturday, October 21): This special edition of the public tour of Scripps Institution of Oceanography will focus on the highlights of Walter Munk’s scientific career, and include a rare tour of the Munk Lab at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics.  Free and open to the public, with tours at 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.

For more information on Walter Munk and centennial celebration events, visit


– Lauren Wood

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