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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
Also during this time, NAS proceedings found that basic marine research was "a realm in unsurpassed promise for the fruits of investigation." But these fruits proved hard to pick. In 1919, a Committee on Oceanography was formed and chaired by Henry Bigelow. The purpose of this committee was to survey ocean life, but it disbanded in 1923 with "frustrated members feeling they could serve no useful purpose."
In 1927, the Committee on Oceanography was reformed with Frank L. Lillie as chair and Henry Bigelow as secretary. The committee was charged to consider the U.S. role in a worldwide oceanographic research program. The committee produced Oceanography: Its Scope, Problems and Economic Importance (NAS, 1929) and The International Aspects of Oceanography (NAS, 1937). The Lillie Committee and its reports highlighted national pride and economic factors as drivers for increased oceanographic research. They pointed out the lack of U.S. research vessels and shore facilities, and concluded that the nation was far behind many European nations in the study of physical oceanography and marine biology.
The reports led to an effort to build up national oceanographic institutions, including enhanced facilities at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Washington. The Lillie Committee also recommended the establishment of a central oceanographic research institution on the East Coast to promote research and education and to provide a place to integrate the various research activities that were being pursued by private institutions and federal agencies. This led to the establishment of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in 1930 with a $2.5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Lillie became the chair of the WHOI Board, and Bigelow became the WHOI director.
Post-World War II: A Golden Age for Oceanography
The rapid development of technologies during World War II resulted in an increased appreciation of science and the importance of ocean research for national defense. On August 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the law creating the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Its primary mission was to secure the collaboration of top-level civilian scientists in all fields of research having a bearing on national security. The Navy worked out a contract arrangement acceptable to the universities that were to undertake the research. The agreements specifically ensured that the scientists involved would retain a large degree of academic freedom by allowing them to initiate projects "in fundamental research without restrictions" — in nuclear physics, medicine, physics, chemistry, mathematics, electronics, mechanics, and oceanography.
At the urging of the Navy, a second Committee on Oceanography chaired by Detlev Bronk was formed in 1948 to assess the state of oceanographic research as part of a larger ONR effort to prepare a long-range national plan. This committee produced Oceanography 1951 (NAS, 1952) and again reinforced the issue of national pride by describing the United States as far behind other maritime nations in its support of oceanographic research for national defense, transportation, and the exploitation of natural resources. The report found the number of U.S. oceanographers to be fewer than 100. It recommended that $750,000 be allocated to train oceanographers and that additional support be provided for basic research in biological and chemical oceanography.
Meanwhile in 1950, Congress authorized the creation of the National Science Foundation to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and to serve other purposes. The President approved the act on May 10, 1950. NSF's support for oceanographic research would prove to be a valuable asset, making important contributions in the advancement of an improved national marine science infrastructure.
It was ONR, however, that continued to take a leadership role. In the 1950s, ONR supported 80 to 90 percent of the oceanographic research occurring in the academic community. ONR concurred with the findings of Oceanography 1951 and resolved to build up U.S. capabilities including new facilities, ships, and equipment. In 1956, a third NAS Committee on Oceanography (NASCO) was formed at the request of ONR, this time by Art Maxwell who was impressed with the work produced by the Lillie Committee. NASCO became one of the most important, productive, and influential committees in the history of the Academy. It formed more than 20 panels and task groups to examine specific oceanographic challenges and opportunities. The committee produced Oceanography, 1960 to 1970 (NAS, 1959), an outline for future oceanographic research, and Economic Benefits from Oceanographic Research (NAS, 1964), which proved to have a significant effect on oceanographic research as well as on relations between the government and the NAS.
Maxwell personally attended NASCO meetings for ONR. Together with Gordon Lill and Feenan Jennings, Maxwell produced a complementary internal report The Next Ten Years of Oceanography (the "TENOC" report; Lill et al., 1959), which was endorsed by the Chief of Naval Operations in 1959 as a plan to increase research funding and provide additional buildings, ships, and pier construction. The additional support was concentrated at ten institutions: Scripps, Woods Hole, and the following universities: Washington, Columbia, Miami, Rhode Island, Oregon State, Texas A&M, New York, and Johns Hopkins.
Oceanography had achieved an importance that was unforeseen at the close of World War II. Outreach efforts triggered interest from leading policy makers, including President John F. Kennedy who in a letter to congressional leaders stated, "We are just at the threshold of our knowledge of the oceans, . . . [This] knowledge is more than a