In Memoriam: Nicholas P. Fofonoff


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death December 18, 2003, of Scientist Emeritus Nick P. Fofonoff at his home in Falmouth after a brief illness. He was 74.

Nick Paul "Nick" Fofonoff was born August 18, 1929, and raised on a small farm near Queenstown in Alberta, Canada. His parents spoke only Russian at home, so Nick did not learn English until he attended the two-room school that served the first six grades for the town of 200. He learned many skills on the farm and developed an interest in science and mathematics, which he developed further when he attended a dormitory school for grade 12 in Cluny, Alberta. In 1945 the family moved to an apple orchard at Creston, British Columbia, where Nick finished grades 12 and 13 and won a scholarship to the University of British Columbia. He received a bachelor's degree in 1950 and a master's degree in physics and mathematics in 1951.

His affiliation with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution began in 1952 when he came to WHOI as a summer fellow while a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University, from which he received a doctorate in 1955. After a postdoctoral year at the National Institute of Oceanography in England, Nick spent six years working in the Pacific Oceanographic Group at the Fisheries Research Board of Canada. He returned to WHOI in 1961 to attend the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics program and as a postdoctoral fellow, and was named to the scientific staff as a physical oceanographer in 1962. He was appointed a Senior Scientist in 1963 and retired in 1991. In 1992 he was named a Scientist Emeritus. Nick served as Chair of the Physical Oceanography Department twice, from 1967 to 1971 and again from 1981 to 1985. He retired from the Institution in 1991 but continued to conduct research and until recently came to work in his office in Clark laboratory.

During his tenure at WHOI Nick also held appointments at Harvard University.   He was Professor of the Practice of Physical Oceanography at Harvard from 1968 to 1985, an Associate of the Center for Earth and Planetary Physics from 1971 to 1986, and a Distinguished Research Associate from 1985 to 1991.

A quiet individual, Nick's research interests included the dynamics of ocean circulation, physical properties and thermodynamics of seawater, and the application of buoy systems to measurements of ocean currents. During the 1980s he focused much of his work on the Gulf Stream. Nick served on numerous national and international scientific committees, including the US Committee on Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP) from 1969 to 1971, the North Pacific Experiment Scientific Advisory Panel from 1972 to 1973, and the Satellite Ocean Data System Science Working group from 1986 to 1989. He was a member of the organizing committee for the joint Russian/American POLYMODE experiment that took place between 1975 and 1981. He was also a member of the advisory panel for the Coastal Upwelling Ecosystems Analysis program of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration. Although officially retired, Nick served as Director of the International Project Office for the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, (WOCE) located at the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences at Deacon Laboratory in England, from 1991 to 1993.

Nick received a number of honors during his career, including the Ocean Sciences Award from the American geophysical Union in 1990 and the Henry Stommel Research Award from the American Meteorological Society in 1998. In 2003 he received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He served as Assistant Editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research from 1969 to 1971 and was a member of the editorial boards of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics from 1970 to 1975 and Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans from 1976 until his death.   He was the author or co-author of 31 scientific publications.

Survivors include his wife, Mabel (Deckard) Fofonoff of Falmouth, MA; three sons, Paul, Timothy and Nicholas, and one daughter, Stephanie.

Funeral arrangements were private. A celebration of his life will be held January 19, 2004 at 1 p.m. at the John Wesley Methodist Church on Gifford Street in Falmouth. In lieu of flowers, donations in Nick Fofonoff's memory may be made to the charity of one's choice.


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Nick P. Fofonoff

Nick P. Fofonoff