Roger Revelle’s legacy lives on at the UCSD campus that he founded, Scripps Institution of Oceanography that he directed and the world of science where he pioneered studies of climate change.
Starting today, his contributions to science and education will be celebrated during a 100th Birthday Celebration that includes presentation of the inaugural Roger Revelle Prize to former Vice President Al Gore, who will address students, and two private events, a symposium and ceremony at the Birch Aquarium.
Walter Munk, noted scientist in his own right who worked alongside Revelle for many years, credited his friend for “a great job moving our institution from a biological marine station to an international oceanographic institution.”
Not only does it have its own seagoing arm, it has gained a foothold in geophysical studies and is an atmosphere climate stronghold, Munk said.
And, he added, Revelle “wrote the definitive on radiation damage” in the Pacific after World War II.
Munk and Tony Haymet, who took over as director of the SIO in 2006, both paid tribute to Revelle’s role in founding UCSD.
“Every day I thank him for the creation of UCSD,” Haymet said. “Otherwise we would be an isolated institution of oceanography. Without our colleagues … we wouldn’t be in the game.”
But Haymet knows his predecessor’s reputation.
“He rocked the world,” he said, pointing to people he worked with and students who studied under him. “One was Al Gore,” who won a Nobel Prize and an Oscar for communicating about climate change - something he learned from Revelle.
The prize being awarded to Gore Friday night recognizes those, who, “like Roger Revelle ask the big questions, recognize the interrelationships of global systems and think on a planetary scale,” states a brochure about the event.
Revelle’s daughter Carolyn, who is in La Jolla to attend the events, said her father exemplified that “big-picture person who cared about the world.”
She said one of his biggest impacts on his family followed the same theme: “his belief that you find something you love to do that is bigger than you are.”
From 1951 to 1964, Revelle directed the institution that he had graduated from in 1936. It is noted in his SIO biography that "(he is) often described as the ‘grandfather of the greenhouse effect.’”
While at Scripps, he began lobbying the University of California system, which operates the oceanography center, to establish a school of science and engineering. He battled with San Diego leaders over the location of the campus.
Carolyn Revelle noted that her mother, Ellen Clark Revelle, had recently mentioned that he was particularly proud that while working to attract top-notch professors, he worked to break down barriers in La Jolla that prohibited Jews from owning real estate in the area.
“He believed the university needed people of all persuasions,” Carolyn Revelle said.
Ed Frieman, director emeritus of Scripps, last week recalled Revelle as the man who tried to recruit him to UCSD when the university opened. He didn’t take the job then, he said, preferring to remain at Princeton before coming to La Jolla in the 1980s.
That Revelle was denied the chancellorship of UCSD “was unfortunate for all of us and for him,” Frieman said.
That drove him to leave San Diego in 1964 to teach at Harvard University, where Gore was one of his students.
Revelle returned to teach at UCSD in 1984, eventually settling into an office next door to Frieman that today still bears his name.