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Pioneering Oceanographer Mark Donelan Passes Away

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    UM News


    Mark Donelan

    CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 16, 2018)—Mark Donelan, a professor emeritus of oceanography who turned the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science into a hub of international wave dynamics research, passed away in Canada on March 12 after a short illness. He was 75.

    Recruited to the University of Miami from a federal research post in Canada in 1996, Donelan pioneered the fields of wave dynamics and air-sea interaction research, and scientists and students from the world over came to Virginia Key to work with and learn from him.

    He established the Air-Sea Interaction Laboratory (ASIST) at Rosenstiel and was a leader of two major wave measurement field programs, the Surface Wave Dynamics Experiment (SWADE) and the Shoaling Wave Experiment (SHOWEX). He also pioneered the development of wave forecast models, working to incorporate his deep understanding of air-sea coupling to improve operational forecasts.

    “More than anything else, he will be remembered as a consummate scientist with a shining keen intellect, a deep understanding of the physical world and a gentle soul. He strove for excellence in everything he did and expected the same from all those around him,” said Brain Haus, director of the Rosenstiel School’s Alfred C. Glassell Jr. SUSTAIN Laboratory, who worked closely with Donelan. “He was legendary for making changes to get things right, no matter how late or inconvenient, always with a polite, quite grace. It is these qualities that will continue to inspire the many scientists, students and staff from all over the world who had the good fortune to work with him.”

    Spanning 50 years, many of his publications were transformative works that remain standards in the field. His latest paper, on the oceanic drag coefficient in high winds, was published just over a month ago. A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the American Meteorological Society, he was a recipient of the AMS’s Sverdrup Gold Medal.

    Born on the West Indian island of Grenada to Ivy and William Donelan, Donelan was the middle of three brothers who grew up playing on the sandy beaches, in the cool waterfalls, and in the blue ocean.

    With a thirst for knowledge and the help of a kind aunt, he immigrated to Montreal to complete a degree in electrical engineering at McGill University (1964). During that time, he met his first wife, June, with whom he had two children, Laura and Maxwell, after moving to Vancouver, where he earned his Ph.D. in physical oceanography at the University of British Columbia (1971).

    He later completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge University, before settling in Burlington, Ontario, where he began a successful 20-year career as a federal research scientist at the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters.

    When UM came calling in 1996, he and June happily moved to Miami, where they could spend their weekends sailing around the Keys. After June’s death in 2006, Donelan retired from RSMAS, and began a new chapter in his life by reconnecting with his old sweetheart, Susan Ramsay, who he married in 2009. They settled in the Cowichan Valley, British Columbia, where Donelan continued to study the mysteries of waves, the ocean, and the atmosphere.

    In addition to his wife, Susan, Donelan is survived by his children, Laura and Maxwell, stepson Andrew Lacroix, step-daughter-in-law Janelle, stepdaughter Jill, and 11 grandchildren.

    There were no firm plans for a celebration of Donelan’s life but his family anticipated an academic celebration in the future. In lieu of flowers, they asked that donations be made to UNICEF and that any fond memories be sent to Susan Ramsay ([email protected]), Laura Donelan, ([email protected]), and Max Donelan-Cloud ([email protected]).




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