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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 72
September 27, 1920–January 17, 1992
BY CARL WUNSCH
HENRY MELSON STOMMEL, probably the most original and important physical oceanographer of all time, was in large measure the creator of the modern field of dynamical oceanography. He contributed and inspired many of its most important ideas over a forty-five-year period. Hank, as many called him, was known throughout the world oceanographic community not only as a superb scientist but also as a raconteur, explosives amateur, printer, painter, gentleman farmer, fiction writer, and host with a puckish sense of humor and booming laugh.
Stommel entered oceanography when the field still had much of the atmosphere of an avocation for wealthy amateurs who used their own yachts for research; he left it at a time when it had been transformed into a modern branch of science, often driven by perceived needs of national security, and of global, organized, highly expensive programs requiring massive government funding. In a sociological sense he was a transitional figure, being probably the last of the creative physical oceanographers with no advanced degree, uncomfortable with the way the science had changed, and deeply nostalgic for his early scientific days. The paradox of his life is that the huge changes that had taken place were to a great extent of his own making, and are a testament