Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Will Pierson, the early giant of ocean waves research!

Here's an old obituary I just by chance came across:

Willard J. Pierson Jr. (1922–2003)
Mark A. Donelan, University of Miami, Fla.
Vincent J. Cardone, Oceanweather Inc., Cos Cob, Conn.
Willard J. Pierson, Jr., retired professor of oceanography at New York University and City College of New York (CCNY), an AGU Fellow, and past president (1974–1977) of its Ocean Sciences Section, died on 7 June 2003. He had been an AGU member since 1948.
His death marked the close of an important chapter in oceanography. Pierson was a true pioneer in many aspects of oceanography, especially wave dynamics and remote sensing. His immense contributions to these fields are complemented by his legacy of a generation of scientists who successfully completed their doctoral training under his guidance to go on to productive and distinguished careers themselves. Pierson was the consummate teacher, always willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to see the light of understanding appear in his students' eyes. He was an effective mentor to many students and younger colleagues; he led by inspiration and by example; he guided with firmness and kindness.
It was published in  Eos Trans. AGU, 84(42), 443, doi:10.1029/2003EO420005.  I am very happy to see this.  Because I have been lamenting in my mind about the lack of memorial activity for Pierson.  It is fitting that finally there is a remembrance written jointly by one of his younger colleagues and one of his students.

When I started as a young scientist going to my first AGU Spring Conference in the latter part of the 1960's, I made my first presentation in a session that was chaired by Pierson.  He made a comment on one of my slides which he thought there's mistake, but I was actually right -- only I was too nervous to make my point clear. From that time on I always tried to stay away from him when we usually go to the same conferences.  For one who learned ocean waves from Kinsman's book, Pierson is one of Kinsman's heros, I have always convinced that Pierson is a giant and pioneer of modern ocean wave studies, especially the spectrum analysis of ocean waves.  As times go by, I started calling him Will, but I don't think he had ever impressed with my works.

Last time I saw him was at the Symposium celebrating Mark Donelan's 60th birthday in 2002.  It was there during a session break, I remembered clearly that Pierson made a loud comment: "There is NO such thing as freak waves!"  No one around there at the time responded to him.  I was in another part of the room and I was very much a tyro myself.  I often wondered had he lived longer, would he be persuaded to change his mind about freaque waves?  It would be of interest to hear his viewpoint as an old master, even he did not agree with its existence.  Oh well!

When I first saw him in that AGU session, he was a handsome bald headed guy.  This was presumably his preferred image in his latter life.  Will, enjoy your after life, R.I.P.

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