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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
by scientists' being able to make appropriate observations, which in turn has depended on the availability of technological capabilities and the development of new technology, including that specifically for ocean science research.
Technology for ocean science research covers a wide spectrum, ranging from ships and satellites and underwater vehicles and buoys, to sophisticated laboratory instrumentation. Providing the appropriate technologies and developing tools and new technologies for research constitute a complex process. Initially, one needs to figure out how to measure what it is you're trying to measure. For example, it's figuring out how to make routine measurements of temperature and salinity from the surface to full ocean depths with enough precision, accuracy, and repeatability that one can describe the movement of water masses—when the physical differences between them are slight. How does one measure the heat content and heat distribution within these water masses and its exchange with the atmosphere in order to make predictions about climate variability? How does one measure the amount of material that sinks from the productive surface waters to the seafloor? How does one measure and describe the microbial processes in the water column and on the seafloor, as this sinking material decomposes and provides nutrients for other ecosystems? How does one measure the geological structure and properties of the sea-floor so as to be able to understand the processes that gave origin to the Earth and that are continually shaping it? Once a decision is made as to what measurements are needed, then the issue is how does one get there and what does one use to make the necessary observations?
What we can learn about the oceans from direct observations with scuba tanks and surface measurements isn't particularly insightful and doesn't provide much new information on scales necessary to study basic processes at work in the oceans. It's when one goes to deeper water that things get interesting. First of all, investigators need to get out on the ocean with adequate tools and capabilities to handle whatever it is that was designed and built to make the measurements or collect the samples. Providing technological capabilities for the overall ocean science research community is where NSF has taken the lead and structured its programs to support these capabilities.
The NSF, primarily through the Division of Ocean Sciences, addresses the provision and development of technology in three ways: (1) by supporting a variety of shared-use facilities and technical services, (2) by developing new techniques and instruments through the disciplinary research programs, and (3) through establishment of a unique technology development program that supports development of new capabilities that might lead to enhanced capabilities for the overall ocean science community. The mechanisms through which OCE provides technological capabilities and develops new ones has evolved as the field has matured.
TECHNOLOGY VIA SUPPORT FOR MAJOR FACILITIES
Central to almost all oceanographic research endeavors in all disciplines is the research vessel. Research vessels and their equipment represent a major technological asset, and as such, they are critical to the advancement of ocean science research. Although the ships themselves have different owners and lineages, NSF has become the major source of support for providing, operating, coordinating, and maintaining this technological capability. This capability evolved over time and within some severe financial constraints, but it also evolved in response to some time-tested managerial decisions.
Because of their high costs of construction and operations, ships have always been the focus of special attention. It took the British Navy several years to come up with the resources in 1876 to provide the H.M.S. Challenger for the famous four-year expedition that initiated the field of ocean science research. Government ships provided the seagoing capability for civilian ocean science research in this country for decades.
Prior to World War II, there were four or five academic research ships in the country, each of which was operated and maintained by the few oceanographic laboratories at the time, for their own projects and personnel. During the rapid growth years of the 1960s, the Navy, primarily the Office of Naval Research (ONR), provided most of the support for ocean research and technology. The number of oceanographic research institutions grew and the number of ships grew. By 1970, the academic fleet totaled at least 24 ships— the operation of which had become big business. Also by 1970, the NSF had become the major source of support for ocean science research as major new programs, such as the International Decade of Ocean Exploration (IDOE), started up. Other agencies such as ONR and the Department of Energy (DOE) were major sponsors as well, but their relative support was diminishing.
The NSF took a different approach for funding research and facilities than did the Navy and other agencies supporting oceanographic research at that time. ONR research programs generally funded entire research projects inclusively—the research, the equipment, the technology, and the necessary ship time. NSF, on the other hand, separated research from seagoing logistics and facility support. In 1960, NSF established a separate office for the construction, conversion, and operation of research ships. Mary Johrde first headed this office, which went by different names with different reorganizations. But the Oceanographic Centers and Facilities Section (OCFS), as it is called today, has had responsibility for providing ship time and other facility support for Ocean Science Research Section (OSRS)-sponsored projects and other projects sponsored throughout the NSF.
The "NSF model" of separating ship and facility sup