Around the Pier: Oceanographer Tim Gallaudet Becomes First Scripps Ph.D. to Rise to Rank of Admiral in U.S. Navy


No doubt his doctorate in marine acoustics from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, helped Tim Gallaudet realize his dream of being an oceanographer in the United States Navy.

But it didn’t hurt that the 2001 graduate failed a color vision test on his way to becoming an officer. Otherwise Gallaudet might have been routed away from the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (CNMOC) that he now leads. 

In July, the Navy announced that it had promoted Gallaudet to the rank of rear admiral. The Scripps relationship with the Navy extends back to the years before World War II and several who have earned doctorates at Scripps have gone on to serve in the Navy, but this promotion marks the first time in the institution’s history that one has achieved this rank.

“Advancing knowledge of the ocean and climate is essential to maintaining our Navy’s operational advantage over any potential adversary, and in preparing for the impacts of future climate change,” said Oceanographer of the Navy Rear Admiral Jonathan White.  “The unique portfolio that Rear Adm. Gallaudet brings as a senior leader is exactly what we need at precisely the right time.  His proven academic expertise and operational experience guarantee his success in leading the Navy’s meteorology and oceanography force in the years ahead.”

“I owe an incredible amount to Scripps,” said the 47-year-old Gallaudet, who is stationed at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. “Technical training is highly valued by naval oceanography.”

Gallaudet credits his time at Scripps, advised by oceanographer Christian DeMoustier, for teaching him more than just science.

“I learned critical thinking skills,” he said. “The science is perishable because you’re learning new things every day, but the critical thinking skills you always need.”

The Navy has been Gallaudet’s whole life. He had already joined the Navy and been commissioned an officer before he received a master’s degree in applied ocean sciences from Scripps in 1991, advised by remote sensing scientist Jim Simpson. His wife, the former Caren Ritter, was also a Naval Academy graduate and a master’s recipient from Scripps, having earned her degree in 2001. The two now live in Diamondhead, Miss. with their three children.

Now Gallaudet becomes an admiral at a time when the military’s need for information is greater than ever. He describes information in itself as a “platform for fighting wars and more than just an enabling element.”

“The Navy is America’s away team,” Gallaudet said. “Naval oceanography provides the Navy home-field advantage at an away game.” 

When Adm. David Titley became Oceanographer of the Navy in 2009, he was the first doctorate holder in oceanography to hold that position. Now Gallaudet is one of three oceanography flag officers in the entire Navy, part of a community that includes only about 350 officers. The other two flag officers are rear admirals White and Brian Brown, who received a master's degree from Scripps in 1988. Those numbers make oceanography the second smallest community in the Navy next only to public affairs, but the profile of environmental intelligence is rising, said Gallaudet.

“That, as well as the national security impacts of climate change, are why the Navy has more than one oceanography flag officer,” he said.

Statistics bear that out. Leaders of the Navy’s Pacific command have noted that the branch now conducts a humanitarian campaign every eight weeks on average. Whether climate change-related natural disasters will accelerate the rate of those responses will depend on information the Navy receives from oceanographic institutions such as Scripps. Gallaudet continues a close relationship with his alma mater, taking part in a May 2014 workshop on sea-level rise at Scripps and in the August 2014 christening of the institution’s newest research vessel, Sally Ride.

Gallaudet collaborates with Scripps oceanographer and former classmate Eric Terrill in understanding the science of the battlespace environment. The Obama Administration’s strategic “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region is, in part, underpinned by a broad-based military presence. In response to this pivot, the Department of Defense focused on the maritime environment.

Gallaudet’s new oceanography command employs a concept of operations titled Battlespace on Demand (BOND) to respond to the pivot. Contributing to Gallaudet’s command’s understanding of the ocean and atmosphere’s impact on naval operations is the Coastal Oceanography Research and Development Center (CORDC) at Scripps, led by Terrill, who said their working relationship began more than 10 years ago when Gallaudet became the commanding officer of the Naval Oceanography Special Warfare Center at Coronado, Calif.

CORDC’s collaborations with the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command have accelerated the introduction of new low power, in-situ sensors for measuring tactically relevant weather and ocean parameters such as wind, waves, currents, and tides, that provide new data streams to help CNMOC meet the operational challenges impacting maritime and land operations. As CNMOC’s numerical models for the ocean and atmosphere are tuned to time and space scales applicable for the Navy operating in the Asian-Pacific region, the benefit of in-situ measurements is proving to be essential. The data from the new sensing technologies are ideally assimilated into these numerical models and contribute to improved forecasts.

Today, new sensors are also being integrated into CORDC’s fleet of underwater vehicles that they operate in support of science funded by Office of Naval Research. These new vehicles are identical to those now being procured by CNMOC in support of characterizing the ocean battlespace.   Lessons learned from operating the vehicles during science expeditions will ultimately transition new tactics, techniques, and procedures to the Navy.  Scripps technology to monitor and report weather from an off-grid, robust weather station was already used during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

“As the Navy (re-) focuses on maritime operations, Scripps expertise in observing and understanding the physics of the ocean will only contribute more to Naval oceanographic needs,” Terrill said.

– Robert Monroe



Related Image Gallery: Scripps Ph.D. Tim Gallaudet Promoted to Rear Admiral

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