Obituary: Ken Melville – physical oceanographer and former Scripps deputy director
Published - 10/21/19 - 01:00 PM | 5796 views | 1 1 comments | 196 196 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ken Melville
Ken Melville
Ken Melville, a distinguished professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego who made profound contributions to science’s understanding of waves and the interaction of ocean and atmosphere, died Oct. 16 after a long illness. He was 73. 

Melville was also a leader of Scripps Oceanography at several points in his career, serving as deputy director of research, chair of Scripps’ education office known as the SIO Department, and in other administrative roles. 

Melville was a pioneering researcher, combining fundamental theoretical insights with innovative use of technology to transform our understanding of the application of fluid mechanics to oceanography, especially in air-sea interaction, acoustic and microwave remote sensing, and ocean waves.

“As well as the practical impact of Melville's pioneering fluid dynamics work on the globally important field of air-sea interaction,” said late Scripps geophysicist Walter Munk in nominating Melville for the 2016 Batchelor Prize, which is awarded for research in fluid mechanics, “the simplicity of his approach here, building on the classical work of [Geoffrey Ingram] Taylor, is a strong reminder that in a field of increasingly complex fluid dynamical problems, there is still an important role for the simpler classical approaches of G.I. and George [Batchelor] that I learned to admire.”

W. Kendall Melville was born in Sydney, Australia on June 17, 1946.  He received BSc, BE, and MEngSc degrees from the University of Sydney, and in 1974, a PhD in aeronautics and astronautics from Southampton University in the United Kingdom. He moved from Australia to the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, where he served from 1977 to 1980. He then took a faculty position at MIT, participating in the MIT-Woods Hole Joint Program until he returned to Scripps in 1991. 

During his career at MIT and Scripps, Ken supervised 20 doctoral students.

“I was mentored by Ken as his student 27 years ago around the time he arrived back at Scripps, and my career has forever been influenced in immeasurable ways that took decades for me to fully appreciate,” said physical oceanographer Eric Terrill, director of the Coastal Observing Research and Development Center at Scripps. 

“He was the best advisor a student can wish for, generous and fair,” said Alexey Fedorov, an oceanographer at Yale University. “I always felt safe and protected - as long as you work hard and try your best, you don’t worry about anything. During my years at Scripps he was like a second father to me.”

In addition to other administrative roles, Ken served as director of the Joint Institute for Marine Observations, a collaboration with NOAA. He was also an affiliated professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego.

Among his many honors, Ken was a fellow of both the Acoustical Society of America and the American Physical Society. He was a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Sverdrup Gold Medal from the American Meteorological Society. 

“Fifteen years working side by side with him has been a privilege and an honor, and I will miss him dearly,” said Scripps oceanographer Luc Lenain, a member of Melville’s research team. “‘What else?’ as he liked to say at the end of a meeting. Well, as I promised him shortly before he passed, we, his team, students and collaborators will carry on his legacy, continuing the work that he had so brilliantly started.”

Melville is survived by his wife of 40 years, Dr. Sabina Wallach of La Jolla, daughter Rebecca of Los Angeles, son Adam of La Jolla, daughter Alexia of Denver, and two grandsons.  

Arrangements for a celebration of life ceremony are pending.

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