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Harry Bryden

Harry Bryden
Harry Bryden

The 2013 Fridtjof Nansen Medal is awarded to Harry Bryden for his long-term leadership in experimental physical oceanography and in understanding the mechanisms of the general ocean circulation and heat transport.

Harry Bryden has made many fundamental contributions to our understanding of the ocean circulation through careful measurements and analysis of the resulting data that he has undertaken in all of the world’s oceans. He is arguably one of the world’s foremost observational physical oceanographers.

Bryden has critically enriched our understanding of the physical mechanisms of the oceanic meridional mass and heat transports and their variability – a clue for quantifying the oceans role in climate change.
In the early 1980s he established a standard for the quantitative estimation of meridional transports using observational data. He developed standard-setting estimates of meridional heat and mass transports in the Atlantic and Pacific, also including the South Atlantic, demonstrating the prominent role of ocean heat transport in the total planetary heat balance. These insights made it finally possible to establish one of the most ambitious observational projects of the last decades, RAPID, addressing the mechanisms of the ocean meridional transports in the Atlantic. Bryden played a key role in RAPID at all stages, from the planning and implementation to the interpretation of the results.

Besides his works on meridional heat and mass transports and the mechanisms driving global overturning, Bryden made groundbreaking contributions characterised by an exceptional breadth combined with a keen sense for problems to which he could make a substantial and lasting contribution. He has led major advances in observing the mean structure and in understanding the dynamics and the role of eddies in many of the world’s strongest currents, including the Gulf Stream System, the Agulhas Current System, the Indian Ocean, and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. He has done important work on such diverse topics as the Mediterranean outflow, the physical properties of seawater, testing Ekman dynamics, and upwelling in the equatorial Pacific, and his papers are ‘must reads’ in all of the most important aspects of oceanography.

Teaching young graduate scientists throughout his career at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Southampton (National Oceanography Centre) in a professional and kindly way, he, at the same time, encouraged them to go well beyond their own aims by asking deep probing questions. He radiates enthusiasm and has been generous in giving his time to others both as a formal PhD supervisor (his former students include several now recognised as leaders in their respective research fields) and as a mentor and scientific inspiration to an entire generation of students and young researchers.