Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

the ocean. Broecker et al. (1961), as already noted, provided the pioneering effort to use carbon-14 as a tracer to advance knowledge of oceanic mixing times and confirm general circulation patterns.

Elucidation of the details of the carbon dioxide-carbon-ate system was, and continues to be, a critical area of research throughout the 1950s to the present. Many marine chemists and chemical oceanographers tackled this central problem, as has been documented very nicely by Gieskes (1974), Broecker and Peng (1982), and most recently by Pilson (1998). Biological productivity and remineralization of the biologically produced organic matter as part of the carbon cycle internal to the ocean were the subjects of considerable and important research efforts as reviewed and summarized by one of the main participants (Menzel, 1974).

The details of organic matter composition in seawater and the underlying surface sediments, and by interpretation the processes acting on the organic matter, began to yield to modern analytical organic chemistry methods through the pioneering efforts of Egon Degens at WHOI with his laboratory's studies of amino acids and carbohydrates; Jeffrey Bada and coworker's studies of amino acids at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; studies of fatty acids by Peter M. Williams of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; studies of fatty acids and sterols in sediments by Patrick L. Parker and his students at the University of Texas; the research of Max Blumer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on hydrocarbons and fatty acids in seawater, organisms, and sediments; and efforts of several other scientists (Duursma, 1965; Andersen, 1977; Kvenvolden, 1980, and references therein). I was in the group of marine organic geochemists engaged in our doctoral studies when these pioneering works appeared and they significantly influenced our research.

GEOSECS: The Most Important Chemical Oceanography-Marine Geochemistry Program of the 1950s to 1990s

I am of the opinion that the most important chemical oceanography-marine geochemistry program of the 1950s to the present was initiated in the late 1960s as part of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration: the Geochemical Ocean Sections Study (GEOSECS). One of the main participants, Dr. Peter Brewer, provides an interesting and informative account of GEOSECS in his paper later in this volume, and I will simply add an interesting story about a few of the influences that launched GEOSECS.

Henry Stommel had proposed an elegant theory about the general circulation of the oceans (Stommel, 1957, 1958, Stommel and Arons, 1960a,b; Bolin and Stommel, 1961; Arons and Stommel, 1967). The ability to use tracers such as the carbon-14 activity of the carbon dioxide-carbonate system of seawater to estimate mixing and circulation times had been demonstrated by researchers in the 1960s, following the seminal work of Broecker et al. (1960, 1961). In an interview for an Oceanus volume in honor of Hank Stommel, Wally Broecker (1992) states that it was Hank Stommel who launched GEOSECS.

Ed Goldberg (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and I were attending some sort of meeting at WHOI during the late 1960s. Hank came to us and said that radiocarbon measurements in the sea were of great importance. He went on to gently chastise us (the geochem community) for doing only scattered stations.

What is needed, he said, is a line of stations extending the length of the Atlantic.

Gee, we said, that would cost a million dollars, a sum greater than the entire NSF annual budget for ocean chemistry.

Hank replied, "Well it would be worth more than a million."

He spurred us to propose such a venture. Soon plans were being formulated not only to do carbon-14 but also a host of other chemical and isotopic properties along Hank's Atlantic line. Boosted by the appearance of Department of Energy [initially from ERDA, DoE's predecessor] monies, Hank's dream became a reality that ultimately covered the entire world ocean and cost NSF $25 million. (p. 73)

Harmon Craig (1992), in his letter nominating Henry Stommel for the National Medal of Science, which Hank Stommel received from President George Bush in 1989, states:

Henry Stommel is the complete scientist, naturalist and sailor, with an eye to every interesting problem and observation that comes along. One of the best examples of this wide-ranging perception of new and interesting developments has been his interest in welding together the tracer geochemistry people and the physical oceanographers for a total look at oceanic circulation and mixing. One result of Henry Stommel's interest in this area was the GEOSECS (Geochemical Ocean Sections Study) Program, which was overwhelmingly considered the best of the NSF-IDOE (International Decade of Ocean Exploration) programs and is the model for the present WOCE (World Ocean Circulation Experiment) initiative, which will expand on and continue the GEOSECS Studies during the next decade.

John Edmond, a major participant in GEOSECS and a marine geochemist who has made several significant contributions to the field, recounts his view of some of the chemical oceanographic achievements that made GEOSECS a possibility (Edmond, 1980). He states, and I paraphrase, that there were several significant efforts and discoveries, such as efforts by Derek Spencer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Karl Turekian of Yale University to overcome many obstacles and make oceanic trace-metal profile measurements a practical proposition; the pioneering efforts of Gote Ostlund and Claes Rooth of the University of Miami to measure tritium in the Atlantic Ocean; and measurement of primordial helium in the deep Pacific by Harmon

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