Monday, January 6, 2014

In Memoriam: Maury Schwartz, Coastal Geologist

Dr. Maury Schwartz teaching a class...on the beach. Photographed by Hugh Shipman in 1991 or 1992

Dr. Maury Schwartz, eminent coastal geologist and Emeritus Faculty at Western Washington University, passed on a few days ago in Bellingham. When I started research work on the Elwha I was always distinctly aware of standing on Maury's broad intellectual shoulders; Maury spearheaded much of the early observational and descriptive work on Ediz Hook and the Elwha river delta, and also made significant contributions to the body of work that informs our conceptual models of the coastal geomorphological system at Elwha.

When I accepted a job with Washington Sea Grant in 2010 and started preparations for returning to Washington one of my fists tasks was to reach out to Maury via email. I was honored that he responded quickly and enthusiastically, and that initial email conversation led to an extended discussion via email and in person. As a relatively young entrant working in the field of coastal geology in Puget Sound, it was a huge honor to converse with Maury and trade ideas and debate the formation and evolution of our complex beaches, coastal spits and bluffs. I recall in particular meeting with Maury at a coffee shop in Bellingham, and leaving with a series of papers that Maury had brought for me along with a collection of napkins full of scribbles and notes on spit formation and development.

The last time I saw Maury was in the late summer of 2013, when Jim Johannessen brought Maury out to the Olympic Peninsula on what would be their final pilgrimage together to the beaches of the Elwha River delta. Jim and Maury had worked together in the 1990s and published one of the earliest, if not the earliest, comprehensive set of quantitative shoreline change analyses for the beaches adjacent to the Elwha River mouth. Maury was visibly weakened, but with our help was able to make his way across the logs and cobbles to lay eyes on the first of the sediment to reach the coast after the removal of the lower dam on the Elwha River. Maury's contributions to our understanding of the coastal landforms of Puget Sound were huge, and even during that final trip his passion for understanding their workings was clearly evident. To stand on the beach with him was an honor and an inspiration to try, in some small way, to continue his legacy.


Dan McShane said...

We do stand on his shoulders and I hope we can build on his great work. Thanks for the nice write up and what a pleasure that must have been to visit the Elwha with him. Very glad to hear he got to see the early sediment release to the shoreline,

Phebe and Richard said...

Thank you for the nice tribute to our dad - and please have a donut in a nearby coffeeshop in his memory.

Ian Miller said...

Phebe and Richard, thank you for your comment. I knew your dad only briefly and professionally, but it meant a lot to me.