How wave forecasting helped the invasion of Normandy

One of the scientists responsible for wave forecast modeling, geophysicist Walter Munk, is now 100

Allies land on the beaches of Normandy, June 6, 1944 (AP file photo)
Allies land on the beaches of Normandy, June 6, 1944 (AP file photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Wave forecasting was just one of many weapons used the day Allied Forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, known as D-Day June 6, 1944.

Ten years ago I had the distinct honor of interviewing one of the scientists responsible for wave forecast modeling, geophysicist Walter Munk, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA. My initial interest in Munk started with a desire to better understand wave modeling. I was a budding meteorologist and avid scuba diver living in Southern California. After getting beat up in the ocean time and time again, I decided it was time to go to the wave guru.

Munk is 100 years old now, and a professor emeritus of geophysics in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

According to a 2014 article published by Scripps Institution of Oceanography regarding renowned Scripps geophysicist Walter Munk, “On June 5, 1944, when the operation was supposed to take place, there were very high winds, and Eisenhower made the decision to wait 24 hours,” Munk explains. “However, 24 hours later, the Americans predicted there would be a break in the storm and that conditions would be difficult, but not impossible.”

Eisenhower decided to proceed with the operation. In hindsight, Munk learned later that the Nazis’ wave prediction was more accurate. “They thought it would be too dangerous for Allied forces to attempt a landing,” said Munk. “The German’s assumption, and the chance Eisenhower took, helped preserve the element of surprise that the Allies needed for a successful landing on the beach,” Munk says, smiling again. “The Sverdrup-Munk wave prediction method aimed to help Allied forces predict waves in order to land their troops safely on shore during amphibious invasions and to avoid failed attacks.”

Watch this historic video of the wave forecasting process.