University of California, San Diego


Renowned National Ocean Science Leader
William A. Nierenberg
Director Emeritus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

William A. Nierenberg, who served from 1965 to 1986 as director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and vice chancellor of marine sciences at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), died of cancer on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2000, at his home in La Jolla, Calif. He was 81.

His career has been characterized by his intense drive, from a childhood of poverty to a widely acknowledged stature in science. Primarily known for his work in low-energy nuclear physics, he was a leading expert in several fields of underwater research and warfare. Nierenberg had a long record of national and international service, beginning with his participation as a young, scientific section leader on the Manhattan Project from 1942 to 1945. In addition, he served as Assistant Secretary General for Scientific Affairs at NATO from 1960 to 1962. He held memberships in several prestigious associations, including the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Philosophical Society.

"Bill Nierenberg served Scripps Institution of Oceanography the longest of any of its nine directors, and he had a profound impact on the institution and in the national science arena. His far-reaching contributions to science, national policy, and Scripps have truly benefitted the world of science," said Charles F. Kennel, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "The impact of Bill Nierenberg's two decades of academic and scientific leadership on Scripps and UCSD is immeasurable," said UCSD Chancellor Robert C. Dynes. "His passion and enthusiasm for science and the institution have helped Scripps and UCSD achieve their prominence."

During his career, Nierenberg served on various panels of the Presidents' Science Advisory Committee. In 1971 he was appointed chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere and served on this committee until 1977. He was a member of the National Science Board from 1972 to 1978 and was appointed for another term from November l982 to May 1988.

Nierenberg had been a consultant to the National Security Agency, the Institute for Naval Analyses, and the Department of Defense, including more than 20 years of service on a prestigious panel of advisors to the military, called JASON. In 1976 he was appointed one of two senior consultants to the then newly formed White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). He was a member of the NASA Advisory Council and served as its first chairman from 1978 to 1982. He was an elected member of the Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) from 1979 to 1982 and had been a member of the Academy since 1965. He was chairman of the NAS National Research Council's Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee and the OSTP Technology Policy Acid Rain Peer Review Panel, whose reports "Changing Climate" and "Acid Rain" were published in 1984.

Nierenberg had served as Senior Consultant to the Defense Science Board, a member of the Marine Science Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee of Law of the Sea, and an advisor-at-large to the Department of State, since 1968. In 1981-82 he served as president of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, the nation's largest scientific society. Nierenberg received numerous awards and honors for professional research and public service. In 1958 he was selected as the first E. O. Lawrence Memorial Lecturer by the National Academy of Sciences. He was recipient of the Golden Dolphin Award of the Association Artistico Letteraria Internazionale (1968) of Florence, Italy. He was awarded the Medal of "Officier de l'Ordre du Mérite "from the government of France in 1971. In 1975 he was the recipient of the Compass Award of the Marine Technology Society. He was awarded the Procter Prize by Sigma Xi in 1977. In 1982 he received NASA's highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal. During his retirement, Nierenberg wrote a number of important historical papers. In 1996, he wrote a biography of oceanographer Harald Sverdrup, whom he much admired, for the Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences. He continued to be active as a science consultant and advisor.

He was a member of the Aviation and Space Historical Museum Foundation, Los Angeles, and The East African Wild Life Society, Nairobi. He became a member of the Institut de la Vie, Paris in July 1986. He was a trustee of The Oceanic Society. He was a member of the Baja Bush Pilots and many other clubs.

Nierenberg is survived by his wife Edith, son Nicolas, and daughter Victoria Tschinkel, and a brother Arthur A. Nierenberg of Florida.

An interment service was held at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego on Monday, Sept. 11. The family is setting up a foundation to support Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Gifts can be made to the foundation. For more information, please contact the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Development Office, 858/822-1866.