Cox pioneered research in two fields – the electromagnetic field in the ocean and in the earth beneath the deep seafloor and the structure of ocean temperature and salinity. For those purposes, he pioneered ocean profilers equipped with high-resolution sensors, deployed them at sea and interpreted their records.
Known to friends and colleagues as Chip, Cox was born on Sept. 11, 1922, on Maui and grew up on Kauai, Hawaii. Initially drawn to biology, he eventually switched disciplines and received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1944 and a Ph.D. in oceanography from Scripps in 1954.
His most recent research interest was the ability of oils to smooth stormy seas. He published a historical account on this topic in the International Journal of Maritime History in August, and his description of the physics of this phenomena will be published soon. He also philanthropically supported this research with recent donations to the Scripps Hydraulics Laboratory.
“With his enthusiasm for novel measurements of important variables, Chip was an inspirational advisor for students aspiring to follow him in exploring the ocean using state-of-the-art tools that they developed,” said Mike Gregg, Cox’s former student and now emeritus professor of oceanography at the University of Washington. “He was also a fount of information about other fields, such as the maritime exploration of the Pacific. His impact will be felt in oceanography for many years to come.”
Cox worked as a graduate research oceanographer during his graduate studies at Scripps, and, in 1954, he joined the research staff as an assistant research oceanographer, a position he held until July of 1960, when he was appointed an associate professor of oceanography. He was elevated to full professor of oceanography and research oceanography in July of 1966. He held these positions until his retirement in September of 1991.
“Chip Cox was a pioneer in the study of electromagnetic phenomena in the oceans, developing theory, numerical methods and instruments,” said Scripps Oceanography Prof. Steve Constable. “Along with his colleague Jean Filloux, Chip made the first deep-sea measurements of magnetic and electric fields in the 1960s and, using these data, made the first magnetotelluric estimates of seafloor electrical conductivity.”
The author of more than 100 scientific papers, Cox was honored with a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship (1957), a Fulbright Postdoctoral Grant (1958), two fellowships from the American Geophysical Union (1980 and 1982), the AAAS-Newcomb Cleveland Prize (1981), the Ewing Medal (1992) and the Alexander Agassiz Medal (2001). He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996.
He was a member of Sigma Xi, the Royal Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, Tau Beta Pi and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Cox is survived by Maryruth, his wife of 63 years; daughters Caroline Cox, Valerie King and Ginger Bahardar; son Joel Cox; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by daughter Susan Crowder in 1987.
A celebration of his life and work will be held on Sunday, Dec. 20 at the home of Walter and Mary Munk, 9530 La Jolla Shores Drive, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Colleagues wishing to express condolences are invited to submit messages for web posting to firstname.lastname@example.org. In lieu of flowers, his family suggests contributions in memory of Chip Cox go to Scripps Institution of Oceanography to continue to support the ocean exploration research that Cox was passionate about. Please note that your gift is in memory of Chip Cox, Fund R-57300A. Gifts should be sent to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Att: Michele Bart, 9500 Gilman Drive, #0210, La Jolla, CA 92093.