Owen Martin Phillips (1930–2010)



[1] Owen Martin Phillips, a pioneer in geophysical fluid dynamics, died at home on 13 October 2010 in Chestertown, Md., at the age of 79. To his many friends and colleagues, Phillips was an inspirational and gracious person who combined a deep intellect, a lively spirit, and a generous heart that matched his passionate interest in the geophysical sciences. Phillips was born on 30 December 1930 in Parramatta, N. S. W., Australia. In 1948 he enrolled in the University of Sydney, where he earned a B.S. in applied mathematics in 1952. That same year, he joined the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University as a research student, where he began to apply to the ocean concepts in turbulent flow recently developed by Andrei Kolmogorov, G. I. Taylor, and George Batchelor. While attending the 1956 celebration of Taylor's seventieth birthday, Phillips heard Fritz Ursell declare that “the process by which ocean waves are generated by the wind cannot be regarded as known.” In 1957 the Journal of Fluid Mechanics contained two remarkable papers offering contrasting theories for ocean wave generation. One paper, by the applied mathematician John Miles (J. Fluid Mech., 2(5), 417–445, 1957), proposed that energy transfer from the air to the sea occurs at a critical layer in the atmosphere boundary layer. The other paper, by Phillips, then 26 years old (J. Fluid Mech., 3(2), 185–204, 1957), proposed that turbulent pressure fluctuations in the wind resonate with propagating ocean waves, forcing them to grow. Together these became known as the Phillips-Miles process, and it was the opening salvo in Phillips's 50-year career of innovative contributions to geophysics through fluid mechanics.