William Maurice Ewing (1906–1974)

William Maurice (“Doc”) Ewing was born in Lockney, Texas, on May 12, 1906; suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in Galveston, Texas, on April 28, 1974; and died in John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas, on May 4, 1974. Over 300 colleagues were present at his burial service in Sparkill, New York, on May 8, 1974. Maurice Ewing received his entire academic training from the Rice Institute (later Rice University) of Houston, receiving a B.A. with honors in mathematics and physics (1926) and M.A. (1927) and Ph.D. (1931) degrees in physics.

Ewing was an instructor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh (1929–1930), then an instructor (1930–1936) and a assistant professor (1936–1940) of physics at Lehigh University. At Lehigh he participated in seismic profiling and oceanographic surveys of the continental shelf with William Bowie, Walter Bucher, and Everett De Galyer. In September 1940, Ewing took a leave of absence from Lehigh University and moved his research group to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. In 1944, he accepted an appointment at Columbia University, where he served as associate professor (1944–1947), professor (1947–1959), and Higgins Professor of Geology (1959–1972).

Ewing wrote over 340 scientific papers, most with colleagues and students, and trained more than 200 graduate students. He developed seafloor seismic equipment, made the first seismic refraction measurements in the open sea, measured sedimentary velocities in the deep ocean, made pendulum gravity measurements at sea, and made theoretical studies of underwater sound transmission, predicting and discovering the SOFAR channel for long-range sound transmission in the oceans. At Woods Hole, Ewing redesigned the bathythermograph (with A. C. Vine) for use by underway vessels and wrote the definitive manual Sound Transmission in Sea Water (with Columbus Iselin and J. Lamar Worzel).

Ewing’s research successes convinced the Columbia University trustees to establish a Geological Observatory at the former estate of Thomas W. Lamont in Palisades, New York, in 1949. During Ewing’s 25 years as director, Lamont-Doherty oceanographers developed techniques for seagoing studies, built equipment for continuous echo sounding, precision depth recording, seismic reflection and refraction measurements, ocean bottom seismographs, piston coring of seafloor sediment, and gravity and magnetic measurements of the ocean floor. He established the World-Wide Standardized Seismograph Network (with Frank Press), studied glacial-interglacial oscillations and the occurrence of ice ages (with William Donn), and wrote the classic book Elastic Waves in Layered Media (with Frank Press and Wenceslas Jardetzky). Ewing and Worzel were co-chief scientists on the first leg of the Deep Sea Drilling Project in 1968.

Ewing was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1948), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1951), and the American Philosophical Society (1959). He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1938, 1953, and 1955. He was elected to the American Geophysical Union in 1931, named an AGU Fellow in 1962, served as President of AGU (1956–1959), and was awarded the William Bowie Medal (1957) and the Walter H. Bucher Medal (1974). Ewing served as Councilor (1946–1948) and Vice-President (1953–1956) of the Geological Society of America, which awarded him the Arthur L. Day Medal (1949) and the Penrose Medal (1974, posthumously). He was Vice-President (1952–1955) and President (1955–1957) of the Seismological Society of America. He was an Honorary Member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (1957), the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (1968), and the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (1973).

Ewing was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Award of the U.S. Navy (1955), the Sidney Powers Memorial Medal of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (1968), the Robert Earl McConnell Award of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (1973), the Agassiz Medal (1955) and the John J. Carty Medal (1963) of the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Medal of Science (1973). He was named a Foreign Member of the Geological Society of London (1964) and the Royal Society of London (1972) and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (London) and the Vega Medal of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography.

In 1976 the American Geophysical Union and the U.S. Navy jointly established the Maurice Ewing Medal “for significant original contributions to understanding physical, geophysical, and geological processes in the ocean; and/or significant original contributions to scientific ocean engineering, technology, and instrumentation; and/or outstanding service to marine sciences.”

Dean A. Dunn

—University of Southern Mississippi

Hattiesburg, Mississippi