Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

rize their effectiveness or their contributions. This can be achieved only by example. It was with this goal in mind that four leading researchers were invited to present at the symposium their perspectives on the role of small programs in the progress of basic ocean research. Susan Lozier, Cynthia Jones, Miguel Goñi, and Maureen Raymo—physical, biological, chemical, and geological oceanographers, respectively—used different approaches to present convincing evidence of the importance of small research programs to the health of the field.

The theme developed earlier, concerning the importance of the individual investigator, was emphasized by Susan Lozier with an eloquent quotation from the great oceanographer Hank Stommel (1989, p. 50):

Breaking new ground in science is such a difficult process that it can only be done by an individual mind.

Lozier described clearly a number of specific contributions by individuals that have shaped our understanding of ocean dynamics today and showed how each contribution constituted one more step toward understanding—each successive investigator standing on the shoulders of his or her predecessors to gain a deeper understanding of the ocean's complex processes. The earliest beginnings of physical oceanography lie in the first recorded temperature measurements of the deep ocean by British sea captain Henry Ellis in 1751, resulting in the first suggestion of a generally global feature of our oceans—the thermocline—that has proven surprisingly difficult to understand quantitatively. Lozier chronicled the ideas and approaches of Iselin (1939) and Montgomery (1938), and the progress of Welander (1959, 1971), but explained that it was not until the work of Luyten, Pedlosky, and Stommel (1983) that a theory was developed that could be used to predict the vertical and horizontal structure of the ocean' s density field. Other examples of the stepwise nature of progress toward understanding the physics of the oceans were described with continuing emphasis on the importance of the contribution of the individual, and with a particular plea that everyone in the field make the individual effort to teach, to mentor, and to support students and younger colleagues. Lozier described the rewards of progressing through the often lonely and frustrating process of problem solving (e.g., Lozier et al., 1994; Lozier, 1997) to that special moment of insight and first understanding, as "the lightness of discovery"—that special and unique moment of satisfaction and clarity. This precious reward is a strangely powerful motivator and is to be experienced only by the individual investigator. The important theme of Lozier's presentation was effectively summarized in her closing words: " . . . as we collectively progress toward that elusive ocean of truth, we would do well to remember that we do so with many individual steps."

A different, but comparably compelling perspective, was provided in Cynthia Jones' paper on fisheries ecology, which served also to emphasize the important role that technology (in this case the development of inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry [ICP-MS]) plays in enabling breakthroughs in research. Unlike many other marine organisms, fish provide clues to understand the processes that affect population dynamics because they contain a dated record of important life history events encoded in their bones. The most reliable bones that serve as data loggers in fish are the earbones or otoliths. Fish encode a history of their age and growth as the result of periodic rings that are visible in a cross section of an otolith, in a pattern similar to that found in trees (e.g., Jones, 1986, 1992, 1995). The elemental composition of the annual bands in the otolith reflects to some degree the environmental characteristics of the water in which the fish lives. Since the physical and chemical composition of the water varies spatially, otolith microchemistry records the water mass characteristics specific to a particular area and thus provides a possible technique for defining population associations and providing insight into population dynamics. The commercial availability of ICP-MS has enabled the development of techniques to read the chemical composition of the otolith and reveal a retrospective datable history of migration contained within the otolith bands. This research has been carried out over the past eight years or so, supported by a series of modest grants to individual researchers. This science was not part of a major initiative developed from the consensus of leading researchers, but rather was developed by a few independent investigators proposing to extend the frontiers of knowledge in understanding the ecology of marine fish with a novel and (at least in the early days of the research) high-risk approach.

Miguel Goñi's presentation provided examples of the critical contributions of individual-investigator research to the field of biogeochemistry, a field within which the large international program known as the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) plays a dominant role. Goñi made the point that although continents have long been identified as key suppliers of dissolved and particulate matter to the oceans, and oceans and continents are (obviously) intimately connected by rivers, groundwater, and wind, much of the ocean biogeochemistry research of the past several decades has focused on internal ocean processes. Major ocean programs have almost exclusively investigated the marine carbon and nutrient cycles in the context of ocean productivity and indeed have led to considerable increases in the understanding of internal carbon and nutrient dynamics in the upper ocean. In contrast, the efforts to further investigate the role of land-derived materials in ocean chemistry have been led predominantly by individual investigators working on small independent grants (e.g., Goñi et al., 1997). Their findings in recent years represent important breakthroughs in the understanding of ocean biogeochemistry. Three examples that were well developed in Goñi's talk were the, importance of terrigenous organic carbon in marine sediments, the role of mineral surfaces in the preservation of organic matter in marine sediments, and the importance of groundwater inputs

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement