Magazine article Oceanus

Sixty Years of Publications at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Magazine article Oceanus

Sixty Years of Publications at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Article excerpt

The 60-year publication history of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) reflects the growth of oceanography there and at other world-class ocean science organizations. This article updates a chapter written by the author and Richard L. Haedrich for The History of Oceanography, a commemorative volume for WHOI's 50th anniversary (Springer-Verlag, 1980). In The History of Oceanography, we wrote, "The first 50 years of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution span a sequence of political, scientific, and socioeconomic changes that have influenced its work and its growth. The situation is not unique to Woods Hole, but applies widely. These changes have influenced other oceanographic institutions, oceanology as a whole, and science in general. What has happened at Woods Hole is a microcosm of the growth and behavior of science in a changing world. Because its growth has been so rapid and has occurred mostly within the lifetimes of its present practitioners, and because good and fairly complete records have been kept since the institution's founding, its history provides a useful object lesson." The years since 1980 have exhibited such large advances that this update may be helpful in projecting future growth.

WHOI was founded in January 1930 by a $3,049,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, at the instigation of a National Academy of Sciences committee. The new institution provided geographic balance for the three other large oceanographic organizations--University of Washington, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, and Bermuda Biological Station. Subsequently these four have been joined by many others in the US and elsewhere in the world. During its 60 years, the size of the WHOI staff, capability of its ships, number of worldwide cruises, extent of sample collection and analysis, competence of studies, publication of journal articles and books, and, of course, its budget have all increased.

Departmental affiliations of the staff and the nature of their publications is an interesting means for evaluating the evolution of oceanographic investigations. WHOI began as a summer institute modeled after the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, which was staffed largely by university professors who did most of their field or laboratory work during summers and wrote their reports at their home universities during winters. Although this method was inexpensive, it tended to produce local studies of single disciplines, mainly biological. At the same time, the availability of the large ketch R/V Atlantis allowed cruises to establish regional patterns of more general biological, chemical, geological, and physical oceanography that were mostly descriptive in nature. In the next decade, the onset of World War II shifted emphasis from basic science to military projects, such as evaluating the effects of the physical properties of seawater and continental-shelf sediments on the acoustics employed for both detection of enemy submarines and defense of our own submarines. Other military applications of oceanography included predicting smoke-screen behavior, drifting of life-rafts, and testing of atomic bombs.

After the war, there was an attempt to return to prewar kinds of oceanography, but by that time oceanographers had learned the value of multidisciplinary research and the navy had recognized oceanography's value enough to supply ships and funds for expanded ocean studies. Thus began a period of broadening vistas that led to oceanwide investigations beginning about 1960 and progressing to international, multiship cruises about 1975. These efforts permitted technology transfers among disciplines and fostered inventions of new technologies for sampling, data collection, and analysis. The technologies included submersibles such as DSV Alvin (at WHOI), special ships for broad bathymetry, speedy and accurate position finding, deep-ocean-floor drilling, digital data processing, and the use of long-term, deep-ocean moorings. …

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