Obituary Notice: Research Oceanographer and Ocean Inventor: Frederick H. Fisher


Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San Diego

Dr. Frederick Hendrick Fisher, co-designer of FLIP (FLoating Instrument Platform) and a leader in ocean sound propagation research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, died Wednesday, May 4, 2005, at Kaiser Hospital in San Diego, of a stroke. He was 78 years old.

Fisher began his career at Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Marine Physical Laboratory (MPL) in 1955, conducting Ph.D. thesis research. Following a year as a Research Fellow at Harvard University, he rejoined Scripps's MPL in 1958 as an assistant research physicist. Although he retired in 1991, he remained an active member of Scripps and the acoustic research community until his death. Early in his career, he was scientist-in-charge of sound propagation research that led to the need for the development of FLIP, a stable research platform for work at sea.

With co-designer Fred Spiess, Fisher created the concept of the 355-foot manned ocean buoy, FLIP, in the early 1960s. FLIP is a one-of-a-kind research vessel that literally "flips" from a horizontal to vertical position in the ocean to become a stable surface for science research. Fisher was scientific officer responsible for developing the "flipping" operation, using 35-foot-long, 1/10th, scale models. He led numerous seagoing operations aboard FLIP following its launch in 1962. After more than 40 years of continuous service, FLIP continues its role today as a valuable component of the Scripps fleet. FLIP serves the ocean research community in a wide variety of oceanographic investigations at sea, including research on the way water circulates, how storm waves are formed, how seismic waves move, how heat is exchanged between the ocean and the atmosphere, and how underwater sound is made by marine animals. An extremely stable platform, FLIP was designed to sustain 30-foot waves in the open ocean and has actually survived 80-foot swells with only minor damage.

"Scripps Oceanography has lost a brilliant collaborator and an ocean inventor with a tremendously keen sense of innovation," said Dr. Charles Kennel, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "Fred's development of FLIP and his numerous contributions to oceanography are honored parts of the history of ocean science. His colleagues and I will truly miss his human spirit, his contagious enthusiasm for ocean science, and his devotion to Scripps."

In addition to his contributions to FLIP, Fisher also had a long and distinguished scientific career, leading research efforts in underwater acoustics, physical chemistry, ocean technology and oceanography. Since 1957 he had been leading research programs devoted to high-pressure measurements related to the physical chemistry of sound absorption in seawater. He led a number of Navy-funded research cruises studying long-range propagation of sound in the ocean.

At Scripps, Fisher served as vice chairman of the Scripps Staff Council, and in 1975 he initiated interest in preserving and restoring the George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory building-the first building erected in 1910 on the Scripps La Jolla campus-for its historical significance. The Irving Gill-designed building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and became a National Landmark in 1982.

Friendly and outgoing, Fisher was a Hall of Fame tennis player, becoming an NCAA national intercollegiate doubles champion for the University of Washington in 1949. He received a B.S. degree in 1949 and a Ph.D. degree in 1957, both in physics, from the University of Washington, Seattle. He was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy from 1945 to 1947.

Fisher was a member or fellow in many professional scientific organizations and the author of numerous scientific publications. In addition, he was honored many times during his career and his awards include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Millennium Medal Award in 2000 and the IEEE Distinguished Technical Achievement Award in 1996. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering from 1988 to 1992 and received the Distinguished Service Award of the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society in 1991.

He served the scientific community in many ways, most notably as President of the Acoustical Society of America in 1983-84 and as a member of the Governing Board of the American Institute of Physics from 1985-1991.

Fisher is survived by four sons, Bruce of Santa Barbara, Mark of Point Loma (San Diego), Keith of Riverside, Glen of Point Loma (San Diego), and nine grandchildren. His wife, Julie, died in 1993.

A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, May 25, at 9:30 am, on the Pawka Green on the campus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. The family requests donations to Scripps Institution of Oceanography to support graduate students. Mail checks made payable to UC Regents to: Scripps Development Office; 9500 Gilman Drive, 0210; La Jolla, CA 92093-0210.

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