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Walter Munk


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October 21, 2018

Patron of Solar Power


people should treat the ocean like we do anything else that we care about, with consideration,
with care, & affection. for that we must educate.
- walter munk -



GILLESPIE FIELD, EL CAJON, CALIFORNIA - We are extremely pleased to welcome Walter Munk to the World Air League Advisory Board as Honorary Director for the Oceans and the Environment in celebration of his recent birthday. Walter Heinrich Munk was born in Vienna, Austria on 19 October 2017 and, at age 101, continues to work full time and travel extensively. He was dubbed “Einstein of the Oceans” by the New York Times in 2015.

Walter is a Physical Oceanographer and Geophysicist whose career, spanning eight decades, includes contributions to our understanding of ocean currents, tides and deep ocean mixing, wind waves, tsunamis and seismic waves, and rotation of the Earth. His pioneering work in Acoustic Tomography made it possible to measure ocean temperature and currents by means of acoustics. He has been at Scripps Institution of Oceanography since 1939, where he created the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics in 1962 and, with Damien Leloup, founded the Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology at UC San Diego in 2015.

His early work on wave predictions during World War II, in collaboration with Harald Sverdrup, led to the first successful Allied offensive of the war in northern Africa (Oran). The predictions were used in the Pacific Theater of War and, ultimately, for the landings in Normandy on D-Day. According to Blair Kinsman (1965: Wind Waves), “There are some thousands of World War II veterans alive today who would have been dead in the surf had Sverdrup and Munk not done the best with what they had.”

Throughout Munk’s career, he has worked closely with the Navy and has the singular honor of holding the Secretary of the Navy Chair in Oceanography for the past 35 years. In the early 50’s he observed the Eniwetak H-bomb test from a lonely 4’ by 4’ raft located about five miles off-shore as part of a tsunami warning system for near-by islands. In the 60’s Walter recorded the progression of waves along six stations positioned on the great-circle route, stretching 6,000 nautical miles from New Zealand to Alaska. The experiment proved that the California summer swell can originate in the Indian Ocean, halfway around the world (to the delight of the surfing community). The Heard Island Feasibility Test of 1993 demonstrated that low-frequency sound pulses could be recorded half-way around the Earth, confirming the use of Ocean Acoustic Tomography as a tool for monitoring global ocean warming.

Walter’s career keeps taking him back to the study of waves; he is currently attempting to learn more about the physics of wind drag on the ocean, a central problem of physical oceanography. He is also focusing on climate change with an emphasis on sea level rise.

Among his numerous awards and honors, Walter has received the National Medal of Science (1985), Kyoto Prize (1999), Prince Albert I Medal (2001), Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (2010), Explorers Medal (2014) and been elected a Member of the National Academy of Science (1956), the American Philosophical Society (1965), the Royal Society of London, Foreign Fellow (1976), and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1994).

Still going strong, in 2018, Walter was “Knighted” by the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Fraternity of Knights of the Wine-Tasting Club) in Burgundy, and in Paris received the UNESCO Roger Revelle Memorial Medal, and was honored with the Legion d’Honneur presented by the French Minister of Environment Hulot.

As an esteemed member of the Explorers Club, founded in 1905, Walter is one of an exceptional international group of individuals known for their historic FIRSTS: FIRST to the North Pole; FIRST to the South Pole; FIRST to the top of Mount Everest; Deepest in the Oceans; FIRST to the Moon; and FIRST to Predict Waves. The World Air League is fortunate to have several of the Explorer Club Members serving as Advisory Directors including Dr. Bertrand Piccard, founder and pilot of the historic SolarImpulse; Dr. Silvia Earle, Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence; Dr. Zahi Hawass, former Egypt Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs (in-charge of the Great Pyramids) and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence; and San Diego's legendary aviation instructors John and Martha King.

In his role as Honorary Director, Walter is helping to determine the route of the epic World Sky Race, A Race for the Planet, A Race for Humanity (WSR). Walter shares Don’s vision for a round-the-world airship race; another attempt at a FIRST by an Explorers Club Member. The WSR will consist of seventeen segments starting on the Greenwich Prime Meridian in London in September 2021, with the winner being the first to cross the French Prime Meridian in May 2022.

Approximately 65 airfields will be selected around the world for refueling; thanks to Walter’s friends, Willis and Claudia Allen, owners of Allen Airways Flying Museum, San Diego’s Gillespie Field has been chosen to host this historic event (February 2022). Willis Allen affirmed, "Both Claudia & I are thrilled to be able to assist in bringing this historic event to San Diego & even more so to Gillespie Field where aviation history is abundant not only in Allen Airways Flying Museum but with many other organizations including San Diego Air & Space Museum ‘s Annex & the Commemorative Air Force." Attendees at the inaugural meeting of the San Diego WSR, John and Martha King shared their enthusiasm for the event, "As airship pilots, John and I understand the exhilaration and inspiration this race will generate. Whenever and wherever we arrive in an airship, the entire community always becomes alive with excitement."

As part of its Mission, the WSR will showcase green sustainable solutions by demonstrating that lighter-than-air aviation can mitigate climate change. The Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans (WMFO) supports the World Air League’s efforts in their global initiative. Damien LeLoup, WMFO Executive Director, agreed, "The Mission and vision of the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans shares the World Air League's perspective and goals for climate change mitigation and global education.”

"The World Air League was honored to be included in Walter's Birthday celebrations. Dr. Munk is extraordinary and it is a joy to share our Mission and vision with him! Together we can chart a new path." Don Hartsell, WAL Commissioner, stated enthusiastically. He went on to say, "Last June, I met Walter and Mary in Neuchatel at the inaugural meeting of the Swiss Chapter of the Explorers Club during their European trip. Shortly thereafter, we met in San Diego. A few days later they were off to Oslo, Norway to welcome the Maud on the occasion of her historic homecoming, followed by a week in Altaussee, Austria, where Walter spent his Christmas and summer vacations as a child. In September, they attended the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. I want to be like Walter, when I grow up."

When asked what keeps Walter going, he responded, "Throughout my eighty years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I have found that one of the most important ingredients for success is the ability to ask good questions; a sense of curiosity coupled with an eagerness for daring exploration are critical components. The World Sky Race will challenge our next generation to reach outside existing boundaries and explore the unknown. It will be great fun to follow the progress, both in the planning and execution of the Race. The sky's the limit!"





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