The Maurice Ewing Medal is presented jointly by the U.S. Navy and AGU for significant contributions to one or more of the following areas: the understanding of physical, geophysical, and geological processes in the ocean; significant original contributions to scientific ocean engineering, technology, and instrumentation; and outstanding service to marine sciences. Fred Noel Spiess has done all of these things superlatively.

If one is to work successfully in the oceans, it is useful (although not strictly necessary) to enjoy being at sea—Samuel Johnson, Charles Darwin and Lord Nelson notwithstanding. Fred Spiess combines this enjoyment of seagoing with a logical nature that leads him to the physical heart of a problem, an inventiveness that makes it natural to develop the tools that he needs when they don't exist, an ability to work well with others in a wide variety of disciplines, and leadership that persuades others to work on significant problems.