UH Emeritus Professor Awarded Alexander Agassiz Medal

Klaus Wyrtki honored for contributions to oceanography with prestigious international award

University of Hawaiʻi
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Posted: Jan 30, 2004

University of Hawaiʻi Emeritus Professor Klaus Wyrtki has been named the recipient of the 2004 Alexander Agassiz Medal of the National Academy of Sciences. Established by a gift from Sir John Murray and presented every three years since 1913 for original contributions in the science of oceanography, the award consists of a medal and a prize of $15,000.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, Wyrtki was chosen "for his fundamental contributions to the understanding of the oceanic general circulation of abyssal and thermocline waters and for providing the intellectual underpinning for our understanding of ENSO (El Niņo)."

As a chairman of the North Pacific Experiment (NORPAX), Wyrtki built up the Pacific Sea Level Network, which monitors large-scale changes in sea level and currents across the Pacific basin. In addition, he established the Pacific Sea Level Center at the University of Hawaiʻi for climate research and monitoring where he showed, for which he is most known for, that the El Niņo/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon was predictable months in advance. He also identified the important role of the western equatorial Pacific warm pool in ENSO.

During his career working on issues of ocean physics, Wyrtki studied a variety of ocean circulation problems throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. For example, while working at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, his work on the circulation in and around the Southeast Asian waters initiated major lines of research, which currently stands as the primary reference for this topic.

Wyrtki was conferred University of Hawaiʻi Professor Emeritus in 1993 after having been a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for 29 years. He has also served as chairman of the IAPSO Committee on Climate Changes and the Ocean. In addition, Wyrtki has received many awards including the University of Hawaiʻi Excellence in Research Award and the Rosenstiel Award in Oceanographic Sciences.