In Memoriam: Karl E. Schleicher


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death January 4, 2005, of retiree Karl Eugen Schleicher of Woods Hole at Harborside Nursing Home in Falmouth, MA, after a long illness. He was 86.

Karl Schleicher was an oceanographic engineer in the Physical Oceanography Department well known for his research and development of oceanographic instrumentation, with emphasis on salinity and temperature measurements, laboratory measurements and the physical properties of seawater. After the HMS Challenger expedition in the 1870s, salinity had been measured by chemical titration for chloride concentration, a slow and demanding technique that was difficult to undertake at sea. At WHOI, water samples were usually bottled and returned to a laboratory ashore for analysis.

It had been recognized that measurement of electrical conductivity offered an alternative way to get at salinity. In the 1930s the International Ice Patrol developed a primitive conductivity bridge for their surveys, but it was complicated to use and the results were not certain. Schleicher and his long-time colleague Al Bradshaw were the first to invent a reliable, sea-going salinometer, first used for practical research in 1955. Their device greatly increased the speed of analysis, and reduced the uncertainty of measurement ten-fold while eliminating the risk of sample evaporation during storage. Other salinometers followed from different designers; the new accuracy produced corresponding improvement in density calculation, and it revealed heterogeneities in the ocean not previously suspected that could be used to infer circulation patterns. The modern CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) is directly descended from the original Schleicher-Bradshaw salinometer.

Karl Eugen Schleicher was born January 2, 1919 in Burlington, Iowa, and grew up in Woodstock, NY. He attended Kingston High School in Kingston, NY, and later the Edgewood School in Greenwich, CT, and majored in physics and math at Bard College of Columbia University, receiving a B.A. degree in 1942. He took postgraduate courses in mechanics, engineering mathematics and geophysical surveying at Columbia University in 1942, 1945 and 1947. During this time, from 1942 to 1945, he also worked on the Manhattan Project as a technical assistant on the scientific staff at Columbia, and later the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation. He conducted physical research on gas flow and diffusion, designed and built research equipment, and interpreted results.

In 1945 he accepted a position as a physicist and mathematician at Rieber Research Laboratory, later known as Geovision Inc., working on research and development of electromechanical devices and geophysical equipment. While there he helped develop a new system for recording and analyzing seismic surveying data.

When the lab closed in 1949, he applied for a position at WHOI and joined the staff in November 1950 as a research assistant working with Fritz Fuglister. He was promoted to research associate in 1952 and to research specialist in 1963. Through the years he worked with Nick Fofonoff, Ferris Webster, Val Worthington and many others in the Physical Oceanography Department before retiring in January 1984. He continued to contribute his skill and expertise on the casual staff until January 1991.

Through the years Schleicher made a number of cruises, among them a nine-week cruise on the German research vessel Anton Dohrn in the North Atlantic in 1958 at the request of Columbus Iselin. Iselin had been in contact with a German research laboratory in Hamburg and thought the new salinometer Schleicher and Al Bradshaw had designed and built would be useful on the cruise and help further international collaboration during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). He also sailed on various WHOI ships, and participated in a two-month cruise on the icebreaker Edisto in 1955 and the Russian vessel Vernadsky in 1976.

Although he listed his hobbies as painting, arts and crafts, and sports on his employment application in 1950, it was his puppet shows and acting talent that many will remember. Performances by Karl and Ruth Schleicher for trick-or-treaters on Halloween were legendary in Woods Hole, where Karl also loved to perform in community productions, many after he retired with the Woods Hole Theater Company. Woods Hole Weekly featured the many talents of "The Unsinkable Karl Schleicher" in a cover story in the May 26, 1983 edition.

Survivors include his wife, Ruth (Davies) Schleicher, of Woods Hole; a son, Karl D. Schleicher of Fairfax, CA; two daughters, Noni Davies of Falmouth and Karen Schleicher of Boston; two granddaughters, and three great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were private. A celebration of his life will be held Sunday, January 23, between 3 and 6 p.m. at the Nimrod Restaurant on Dillingham Avenue in Falmouth. In lieu of flowers, donations in Karl Schleicher's memory may be made to the Alzheimer's Services of Cape Cod & the Islands, 895 Mary Dunn Road, Hyannis, MA 02601.


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Karl E. Schleicher

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