Richard Seymour: 1929-2021

Architect of the iconic Coastal Data Information Program, world’s largest repository of scientific, directional wave data

Richard Seymour, a renowned research engineer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, who envisioned a network to collect coastal data as a graduate student, died May 22, 2021. He was 91 years old.

Seymour had already pursued a varied career including military service and entrepreneurial ventures when he enrolled at Scripps Oceanography in his early 40s. He received his PhD in 1974 with an idea to collect data on wave climatology over a long term already in his mind. One year later, he launched the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP), deploying one research wave sensor off Imperial Beach, Calif.

The network now has 70 active stations that continuously log wave height, direction, and water temperature and in selected locations current and wind velocity. To date, data from 290 global stations have been collected, qualified and archived. CDIP provides vital information to a host of users in the coastal United States, selected South Pacific Ocean islands and Puerto Rico, ranging from harbormasters and vessel captains to surfers checking nearshore conditions before leaving home.

“Driven and demanding, Dick was a patient educator, enthusiastic mentor, tolerant of student mistakes and remarkably generous with his time,” said David Castel, a retired Scripps Oceanography principal development engineer and manager of the Ocean Engineering Research Group laboratory, which includes CDIP. “He had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish and how to achieve his goals. He was hands-on no matter the task, his focus was unrelenting. Leading by example he satisfied the prime prerequisite of any organization. Seymour was a born leader.”

“It was an honor to work in CDIP under Dick’s guidance,” said CDIP Program Manager Julie Thomas. “His passion for waves manifested in critical societal impacts for mariners’ safety, for the ocean environment and economic benefit.” 

During his career at Scripps Oceanography, Seymour led the Scripps Ocean Engineering Research Group. Besides wave research, he also studied nearshore processes such as sediment transport and shoreline erosion, as well as ocean technology, robotic work systems, and wave mechanics.

"Dick Seymour recognized that reliable, continuous observations of ocean waves could increase the safety of marine operations, and improve management of harbors and beaches," said Scripps oceanographer Robert Guza, whose association with Seymour began when both were Scripps graduate students in the early 1970s. "Waves move sand. Over decades, he successfully adapted changing technology to produce high quality, open-access data sets that fed concurrent advances in wave modeling."

Seymour was born on Aug. 28, 1929, in Harrisburg, Penn. He received a BA in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 1951. Poor eyesight prematurely ended his naval career. After establishing a wire and cable company, Seymour moved to California where he worked in the aerospace industry. During that time, he became a volunteer marine collector for Bay Area aquariums. The experience motivated him to pursue a marine science career and enroll at Scripps.
 

During his time at Scripps Oceanography, Seymour served as executive director of the Foundation for Ocean Research (1983-1987) and as a member of the National Research Council's Marine Board (1984-1990). He served as a Professor Emeritus in Ocean Engineering at Texas A&M University, where he held the Wofford Cain Senior Chair in Offshore Technology. 

In 2000 Seymour was honored with the John G. Moffatt–Frank E. Nichol Harbor and Coastal Engineering Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1997 he received the Joe Johnson Outstanding Service Award from the California Shore and Beach Preservation Association for Outstanding Contributions to the Sciences of Nearshore Processes and Oceanography. He was a member of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, U.S. Army Corps Civil Engineering Research Board and a fellow in both the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Marine Technology Society. He authored more than 100 scientific papers. 

“As a humble statesman of our field, Dick would be embarrassed by our recognition of his unparalleled contributions to making science and engineering accessible to a global audience that operates, lives, or recreates on the ocean,” said Scripps oceanographer and CDIP Principal Investigator Eric Terrill.

Seymour is survived by wife Barbara of La Jolla, Calif. and son Mark of Pennsylvania. A Celebration of Life, held in Dick’s honor, will be announced in the future.

Colleagues are welcome to submit tributes to Seymour by emailing them to scrippsnews@ucsd.edu.

 

TRIBUTES

 

"Dick was one of the good guys. I enjoyed working for him for many years."

Jack Lucas, development technician (retired), Scripps Oceanography

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at www.ucsd.edu.

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