Walter Pitman was born in Newark, N.J., on October 21, 1931. After initially embarking on a career in electrical engineering following studies at Lehigh University, Pitman switched to Earth science as a graduate student in oceanography at Columbia University in 1960, and stayed on to make a career of it at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Dr. Pitman was instrumental in interpreting the pattern of marine magnetic anomalies detected around mid-ocean ridges as indicative of active seafloor spreading, thus unlocking the “Rosetta Stone” of continental drift and plate-tectonic theory. He discovered the first matched transoceanic magnetic profile that proved the reality of plate generation and motion.
Now a senior scientist emeritus at Lamont-Doherty, Pitman’s research interests have expanded to include theoretical geomorphology and tectonics, with particular emphasis on unraveling the history, causes and consequences of changing sea levels. He co-authored, with William Ryan, the much-heralded book Noah's Flood, and has published numerous papers on oceanic magnetics, plate kinematics, and the subsidence history of continental margins as well. An outspoken proponent of multidisciplinary research, Dr. Pitman currently co-teaches a course on environmental science for future policy makers at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Dr. Pitman is a fellow of both the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union, which awarded him its Maurice Ewing Medal in 1996. In addition to the Vetlesen Prize, he also received the Society for Sedimentary Geology’s Francis Shepard Medal (1984), and the Alexander Agassiz Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1998).