John Frederick Matthews Grassle of Princeton, NJ and formerly of Woods Hole, MA died in his sleep on Friday, July 6, 2018 at Regency Jewish Heritage Nursing Center in Franklin Township, NJ. He was 78.
Fred, as he was known to everyone, was born on July 14, 1939 in Cleveland, OH. He was raised in Bay Village, OH, graduating from Bay Village High School in 1957. He received a degree in Zoology from Yale University in 1961. During his studies, he spent a summer as an intern at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), setting the course for the rest of his professional career as an oceanographer. Fred received his PhD from Duke University in 1967 and then completed a Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Queensland in Australia studying succession on the reef crest at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Following his fellowship, Fred joined WHOI as a full-time Assistant Scientist in 1969. During his tenure at WHOI Fred conducted research on deep-sea biodiversity, initially with Howard Sanders. His earliest work was focused on determining why the deep-sea benthic macrofauna were highly diverse. His theory was that the ocean floor was much like a rain forest where a patchwork of different micro-environments allows animal species to evolve independently. This interest led to Fred’s early involvement in the first biological expedition to survey the hydrothermal vents discovered at the Galapagos Rift in 1977. Fred conducted pioneering research contributing to the world’s understanding of the unique ecosystems near these volcanic vents at the sea floor, fueled by chemical energy from the Earth’s interior rather than sunlight. The first of a series of expeditions over the course of Fred’s career was documented in the National Geographic Society’s documentary Dive to the Edge of Creation.
In 1989, Fred joined the faculty at Rutgers University’s Cook College to establish the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. He helped to raise funds for a new building to house the Institute whilst expanding the research and teaching faculty and conducting his own research. This included an analysis of ocean dumping that led to the end of sludge disposal in U.S. waters. Later Fred helped to establish one of the first ocean observing stations off the coast of New Jersey and was one of the founders of the Census of Marine Life and Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Fred retired in 2012 with 23 years of service to Rutgers University. Among other honors, Fred was awarded the Japan Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Grand Prix des Sciences de la Mer Albert de Monaco, and the ASLO Lifetime Achievement Award. He has had six species and one genus of polychaetes, three species of mollusks, and three species of crustacea named after him.
Son of the late John Kendall and Norah Iris (Fleck) Grassle, he is survived by his wife of 53 years, Judith Helen (Payne) Grassle, a son John Thomas Grassle, his sister Norah Jean (Grassle) Bunts, and brother-in-law Frank Bunts.