Bruce A. Warren

2004 Maurice Ewing Medal Winner

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mass.

Bruce A. Warren received the Ewing Medal at the 2004 Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony on 15 December, in San Francisco, California. The medal is given for significant original contributions to the scientific understanding of the processes in the ocean; for the advancement of oceanographic engineering, technology, and instrumentation; and for outstanding service to marine sciences.


Bruce Warren is a physical oceanographer and scientist emeritus at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he has spent his entire career. Few can claim to have personally unearthed so many distinct elements of the World Ocean circulation as Bruce. At the beginning of his career, oceanographers were working out the implications of the still relatively fresh idea that the large-scale circulation tends to concentrate flow at the western boundary of ocean basins in strong western boundary currents like the Gulf Stream and Kuroshio. During his Ph.D. years, Stommel and Arons published their simple but far-reaching dynamical framework for deep circulation in the ocean, and these concepts and extensions were nowhere better tested than in Bruce’s field investigations of deep circulation in almost every major ocean basin in the world. Bruce never failed to point out how, for good reason, other explanations were usually less compelling. His application of Occam’s Razor to all work, including his own, is fierce and famous.

Bruce’s career has truly been a voyage of discovery. He has single-handedly found numerous major deep currents, previously unknown or at best sketchily observed in nearly all the world ocean’s major basins. The Indian Ocean has been a favorite: currents in the Madagascar and Mascarene Basins, the Southwest and Central Indian Ridges, and the 90E Ridge. In the Pacific, he revealed flow on the East Pacific Rise and above the Aleutian Trench and Rise.

To many, Bruce is a hydrographer—a self-described student of property distributions; but direct current measurements have played an important role wherever possible and practicable. Among his most recent works is the discovery of high-frequency boundary current oscillations owing to Rossby wave resonance that dominate western boundary current behavior in the Indian Ocean and that perhaps are pertinent to most western boundary regimes.

At the same time, Bruce from the beginning has developed theories to back up his observations, where existing theory was lacking.

He developed a model for the structure of a western boundary current in the Pacific based on density diffusion—quite unlike the property-conserving theories of Stommel and others—and a lasting theory for the pathway of western boundary currents.

Bruce respected fundamental contributions of numerical models and carried out a study of the global deep oxygen minimum as a complement to early work by Mike Cox on the role of the Drake Passage. This study linked the global water mass structure to the Drake Passage constraint on the ventilation of the deep ocean.

Finally, Bruce has a remarkable range of interests. Equally absorbing to him are the paintings of Arthur Cohen, the string quartets of Phillip Glass, and westward propagating disturbances in deep current meter records. He will describe in detail the fern-leaved false foxglove, the great crested flycatcher, and the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.

The award of the Maurice Ewing Medal gives us the opportunity to show the depth of Bruce Warren’s contribution to ocean science and to our community, and the high value of impeccable scholarship.

—KEVIN SPEER, Florida State University, Tallahassee


Thank you, Kevin, for your flattering, if perhaps slightly mischievous, remarks. I got into oceanography through an undergraduate summer job at Woods Hole. I didn’t know what oceanography was, but my freshman physics teacher, Arnold Arons, worked there summers, and Cape Cod sounded like an agreeable place for summer vacation. He said a bright, young friend of his had a lot of routine chores that needed doing—plotting points, desk-calculator work—which I could do if I wanted. The bright, young friend was Hank Stommel. Halfway through the summer he ran out of chores, so he sent me off to sea with Fritz Fuglister on the Atlantis. I loved that. After another summer or two at Woods Hole, I decided that water-catching was an honorable profession, and that physical oceanography could be a lively vocation, with opportunities to go to sea and to observe and think simple physics about intriguing phenomena. That’s how it turned out. But that first summer was certainly the most important in my life, when by happy accident I came to know the three men who would have by far the dominant influence on my professional life.

I was also lucky, though unaware of it, to be entering oceanography just when the Cold War was expanding financial support for scientific research. The competition was political, cultural, and intellectual, as well as military, and program managers at the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation had broad views about funding basic, exploratory research. These circumstances stimulated the construction of large research vessels that could leave their home waters and work the world ocean.

I was fortunate as well that while I was a graduate student Stommel and Arons proposed their revolutionary schematics for the deep-ocean circulation, based on the notions of geostrophy, widespread upwelling, and boundary currents. Their ideas suggested radically different circulations from those then imagined, but they made clear physical sense. The schematics were rudimentary enough that they could be applied to real ocean basins to interpret ambiguous data and to make predictions testable with lines of hydrographic stations and current meters. The testing seemed a worthwhile thing to do.

Moreover, in the 1960s, the deep Pacific and Indian Oceans hadn’t been explored in any detail at all, so the Stommel-Arons physics offered some strategic guidance for making critical observations that could disclose a great deal about the deep circulations there. The conjunction with Cold War funding made possible the long, distant exploratory cruises that were required.

So in an unsystematic way, and with digressions, I’ve been trying to uncover pieces of the deep-ocean circulation for most of my adult life. The effort has allowed me to work in and learn and write about all the oceans except the Arctic. I value collaborations I’ve had with several smart, congenial colleagues, the expert support of some technical people, and the company of lots of good shipmates. And I’m very grateful to AGU and ONR for this award, especially to the people who made and supported the nomination.

—BRUCE A. WARREN, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mass.