Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

success. During the past several years in the United States, there has often been a vigorous debate about definitions and values pertaining to ''basic" and "applied" research. It is interesting that Redfield noted in a taped interview conducted in 1973 by his daughter, Elizabeth R. Marsh, "I learned one thing from [work during the war on] the paint thing, and that was that it was pretty good fun on an applied problem. Because if you had an applied problem which couldn't be solved by existing engineering principles, it meant that you didn't know what the fundamental problems were" (Marsh, 1973).

After World War II, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) continued a strong interest in ocean research, including the chemistry of the oceans (Anderson, 1973). Although this symposium was focused on the National Science Foundation and oceanography, it is important to acknowledge that ONR funding of chemical oceanography and marine chemistry was critical in the years following World War II, especially the 1950s and 1960s, as NSF funding in this arena was initiated and then increased.

Research that has had a major influence in chemical oceanography and marine geochemistry was W.F. Libby's discovery of radioactive carbon produced in the atmosphere from cosmic rays. Continuing the strong connection between biological or ecological considerations and ocean chemistry, the renowned limnologist and ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson wrote a provocative paper "The Problems of Oceanic Geochemistry" (Hutchinson, 1947).

The 1950s was a period of intensification of the more traditional (at the time) and mainly descriptive studies of nutrients, dissolved oxygen, and major and minor elements in general. A summary of this particular research focus is found in the report of a meeting convened by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS, 1959) on the physical and chemical properties of seawater. One glimpse of the thinking at that time is provided by this exchange, which can be found in the discussion section of the report. Professor W.T. Holsar of the Institute of Geophysics at the University of California at Los Angeles asked the question, "Can different oceans be characterized by differences in chemical composition?" Professor Richard H. Fleming of the University of Washington answered, "Yes. If a sample labeled only by depth is presented to a chemist, he can, by analyzing chlorinity, calcium, alkalinity and nutrients, distinguish whether it is from the Atlantic, Pacific or Indian Oceans." (p. 95)

An important event of the 1950s in chemical oceanography, as it was for oceanography in general, was the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-1958. From the perspective of the present, I believe that in addition to obtaining valuable data, the IGY expeditions provided experience with intensive water sampling and chemical analyses of large numbers of samples and experience with multinational collaboration. Chemical measurements were made as "routine" aspects of the hydrographic sections. Experience gained from "catching water" during the hydrographic casts of these expeditions was translated directly into practical improvements for water sampling—hydrographic casts—of the 1960s, which in turn, made possible the significant progress to come in the 1970s and later.

Early National Science Foundation Grants

The 1950s were the formative years of the National Science Foundation. I thank Dr. Michael Reeve of the Ocean Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation and his staff for making available a compilation of grants during the early years of NSF (Reeve, 1998). I have selected all the grants whose titles indicate that they pertain to marine chemistry, geochemistry, and chemical oceanography in some manner (Table 1). Many of the recipients of these grants are widely recognized today as leaders of the 1950s through the present in geochemistry, geology, and chemical oceanography or marine chemistry. Many other prominent chemical oceanographers and marine geochemists were fully funded by the Office of Naval Research and by the Atomic Energy Commission and thus may not have had the time or the inclination to submit a proposal to NSF in the early days of the 1950s.

As far as can be determined, the first NSF grant (listed under Earth Sciences) that could be described as focused in some area of chemical oceanography was awarded to T.J. Chow and T.G. Thompson of the University of Washington, "Distribution of Some Minor Elements in Seawater" (Table 1). Things picked up in 1954 and through the IGY, NSF's Earth Sciences funded research that would have profound effects on our knowledge of the chemistry of the sea and still influence our research today. As the titles of the grants in Table 1 indicate or hint, this research involved one of the major intellectual forces and practical applications of chemistry to the oceans in chemical oceanography and marine geochemistry of the past 50 years—radioactive isotope and stable isotope chemistry analyses of seawater and sediment samples to elucidate physical, biological, geochemical, and biogeochemical processes in the oceans.

Descriptive Chemical Oceanography Shifts Toward Quantifying Rates

The decade also heralded a significant move from the use of chemical measurements for descriptive oceanography to the initiation of the use of chemical measurements to quantify rates of oceanic processes. These were the early career years of several scientists who would make significant contributions to marine chemistry and chemical oceanography and the use of chemistry to understand and quantify oceanic processes: Harmon Craig and Edward D. Goldberg of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Wallace Broecker of Columbia University and Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, and Karl Turekian of Yale University, among others.

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