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By 1968, annual oceanographic research and education budgets in a number of laboratories were in the multimillion-dollar range, and the academic oceangoing research fleet consisted of 35 vessels greater than 65 feet in length.

The rapid expansion of oceanography during the 1960s had been stimulated by the NASCO and TENOC reports of 1959. During the 1970s and beyond, oceanography would be shaped by the Stratton Commission report, Our Nation and the Sea, released in January 1969 (CMSER, 1969a).

Our Nation and the Sea addressed our national capability in the sea, management of the coastal zone, marine resources, the global environment, technical and operating services, and organizing a national ocean effort. The report included more than 120 recommendations: it called for an independent civilian agency to administer federal civil marine and atmospheric programs to be known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA); the appointment of a National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmospheres (NACOA); an International Decade of Exploration (IDOE); a Coastal Zone Management Program, including coastal zone laboratories; and in order to maintain U.S. leadership in ocean research, the creation of a number of University-National Laboratories (UNLs).


This section describes the transition from University-National Laboratories to a National Oceanographic Laboratory System to a University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System.

The Stratton Commission declared:

  1. U.S. leadership in marine science depended mainly on the work of a small number of major oceanographic institutions, such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory.

  2. Creation of big science capability in a few efficient centers is more economical than pursuing the major scientific tasks on a scattered project-by-project and facility-by-facility basis.

  3. The laboratories must be assured of an adequate level of institutional support for broad program purposes.

  4. The laboratories should be located to cover different parts of the ocean efficiently and to be readily available to other scientists and institutions.

  5. The direct management of these laboratories should be assigned to universities with a strong interest and demonstrated competence in marine affairs.

The commission went on to suggest that the laboratories would include but not be restricted to the leading laboratories mentioned earlier and that they certainly would be needed on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts, the Great Lakes, in the Arctic, and in the mid-Pacific.

The commission recommended "that University-National Laboratories (UNL's) be established at appropriate locations, equipped with the facilities necessary to undertake global and regional programs in ocean science, and assured of adequate institutional funding for continuity and maintenance of both programs and facilities."

In the reports supporting the Stratton Commission's final recommendations (CMSER, 1969 a,b), the Panel on Basic Science and Research, chaired by Robert M. White and John A. Knauss (Volume 1), stated that the laboratories selected to be UNLs must make some formal provision for outside investigators. Further, a partnership between marine science and technology should be fostered and engineering competence should be closely aligned with the laboratory or established within the laboratory.

The recommendation and supporting rationale to establish UNLs were to stimulate subsequent discussions, proposals, and lively debate among the directors of existing laboratories and the personnel of federal funding agencies, most notably the NSF. Adrenalin surged in every ocean laboratory director. Each director saw great opportunities for his own laboratory.

A National Oceanographic Laboratory System—Starting the Debate

When the Stratton Commission report was published a distinct operational pattern of oceanographic research had already been established within the academic community. The system had evolved so that each institution doing ocean research did so from its own research vessel or vessels. "If you were going to be an oceanographic research institution, you needed a research vessel" (Knauss, this volume).

In addition to the vessels at Scripps, Woods Hole, and Lamont, research vessels, new or converted, had been provided by ONR and NSF to the Universities of Rhode Island, Miami, Texas A&M, Oregon State, Washington, and Hawaii. In all, the academic oceanographic research fleet included 35 vessels more than 65 feet in length, 15 of them greater than 150 feet in length, and 9 of these longer than 200 feet. For the most part, their operation was funded through block grants by NSF, and early on by ONR. Although the research conducted from these vessels was done primarily by researchers of the operating institution, visiting scientists from other laboratories were often accommodated. Scheduling and operational management of the vessels were in the hands of the oceanographic research institution.

The future of any university laboratory would be ensured if that laboratory were selected to be one of the Stratton Commission's University-National Laboratories. Every laboratory director recognized the opportunity and positioned his or her laboratory to take advantage of it. Their sense of anticipation was high—and optimistic.

Following the release of Our Nation and the Sea, federal agencies began gearing up to carry out the Stratton Com

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