UH Emeritus Professor Awarded Prince Albert I Medal

Klaus Wyrtki honored for contributions to oceanography

University of Hawaiʻi
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Posted: May 20, 2003

University of Hawaiʻi Emeritus Professor Klaus Wyrtki has been awarded the Prince Albert I Medal by the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans (IAPSO). Wyrtki is the second recipient to be awarded the Prince Albert I Medal, which is named in honor of the late Prince Albert I of Monaco.

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 has 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.

According to UH Mānoa Oceanography Professor Roger Lukas, Wyrtki has mentored many graduate students, teaching them the value of careful ocean observations. He has taught students to fuse physical intuition with sparse data to gain understanding of the "big picture." He has set a high standard of this understanding by stating that, "the true test (of one‘s understanding) is the ability to predict."

In partnership with the IAPSO, Prince Rainier of Monaco established the Prince Albert I Medal in the physical sciences of the oceans. The medal is awarded biannually by the IAPSO. The IAPSO is one of seven associations of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), which in turn is constituted within the International Council for Science (ICSU). IAPSO has the prime goal of "promoting the study of scientific problems relating to the oceans and the interactions taking place at the sea floor, coastal, and atmospheric boundaries insofar as such research is conducted by the use of mathematics, physics, and chemistry."