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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
ence of NSF in enabling the collection of the fundamental data sets, promoting international collaborations, providing access to technology, and stressing the importance of relating the observations to basic physical, chemical, and mathematical models in order to gain real understanding.
MG&G IN THE PRE-NSF ERA
The Challenger Expedition
Marine geology and geophysics as a field dates back at least to the HMS Challenger expedition in 1872-1876. The Challenger was a sailing ship of 2,300 tons with auxiliary steam power. With funding from the British Royal Society, that expedition systematically collected observations of the oceans stopping every 200 miles. At each station, depth to the seafloor and temperature at various depths were measured by lowering a sounding rope over the side. Water samples were collected, and the bottom was dredged for rocks and deep-sea marine life. The Challenger expedition set the pattern for all expeditions for the next 50 years. The results from the expedition were staggering and filled 50 volumes. Surprisingly, oceans were not the deepest in the middle—the first hint of the vast mid-ocean ridge system that was so central to the seafloor spreading concepts to be proposed later. Although 715 new genera and 4,417 new species were identified, unexpectedly, none turned out to be the living fossil equivalents to the trilobites and other ancient marine creatures found in terrestrial strata. The types of sediments on the seafloor were unusually lacking in diversity compared with terrestrial equivalents and were categorized by Sir John Murray as being one of only two types: chemical precipitates or accumulations of organic remains. Despite the great improvements in sampling technology that have been achieved since the days of the Challenger, some things never change. The dredge is still a mainstay for bringing up samples of submarine rocks, and it can still be expected to return to the surface right at the dinner hour.
Between the Two Wars
The modern era of ocean sciences began in the years preceding the Second World War. It was in these years that Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) grew from a coastal marine station to an oceanographic research laboratory. Founded as a coastal marine station in 1903 by William Ritter, chairman of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, Scripps grew in national and international stature under its second director, T. Wayland Vaughn, but lacked a ship to truly explore the Pacific Ocean. In 1936, Harold Sverdrup took over and obtained $50,000 from a long-time benefactor of the institution, Robert P. Scripps. The funds were used to purchase the E.W. Scripps , a 100-foot sailing vessel. Scripps as an institution was now a viable deep-sea research institute. Of course the realities of the endurance of a 100-foot vessel still meant that the institution was hardly global in scope. The great marine geologist Francis Shepard was the first to use the ship to take bottom cores and measure currents near the bottom of the ocean.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) was established in 1930, by direct intervention of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS, 1929). The U.S. Navy and other government officials saw the need to establish an East Coast equivalent to Scripps to concentrate on the Atlantic Ocean. Although a number of sites along the East Coast could have suited the purpose, the fact that the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) was already established in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, was a deciding factor (along with access by rail and an "equitable" climate year around). At one point, MBL was approached to ascertain whether the institute was interested in expanding its scope to be an interdisciplinary oceanographic center. MBL declined the offer, but helped to establish Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and, to this day, retains close ties with its research neighbor.
The World War II Effort
In 1940, the threat of submarine warfare provided the national imperative to understand the marine environment. At the time, there were two differing views as to how to detect submarines. As recalled by Roger Revelle,
[Ernest] Lawrence and his friends, reasoning with some justification that oceanographers were bumbling amateurs, quickly decided that underwater sounds were a poor way to catch submarines and that optical methods should be used instead. They constructed an extremely powerful underwater searchlight and sewed together a huge black canvas cylinder which could be towed underwater to imitate a submarine. Unfortunately, it turned out that when the searchlight was directed on this object, it could be detected out to a range of about 100 feet. Shortly thereafter, the physicists disappeared. (Shor, 1978, p. 25)
and the "bumbling amateurs" took over. It was only after the war that oceanographers learned that the contribution of these physicists to the war effort was not entirely useless. They had been shuffled off to New Mexico, to design and build an atom bomb.
The current format of oceanography, which involves an interdisciplinary grouping of marine physicists, biologists, engineers, chemists, and geologists, was largely an invention of the Navy to meet its specific needs. Although at first glance it might seem odd that investigations undertaken for the purpose of antisubmarine warfare might lead to plate tectonics or paleoclimate reconstructions, mary observations relevant to Navy interests turned out to be key ingredients for these future revolutions. For example, detecting the presence of submarines acoustically required knowledge of the shape of the bottom of the ocean and the sediment type, magnetic detection required knowing the ambient back