colleagues tried to core and dredge the Tonga Trench, the instruments came up battered and bent, and empty. If there were any sediments, they were sparse and thin. The observations could best be explained if the rocky sea floor was disappearing into the Earth along the axis of the trench (this is now called subduction). On Capricorn, Ronald Mason towed a magnetometer behind the vessel and recorded a complicated set of wiggles that no one could understand. Later Mason produced a map of the magnetic field under the sea floor showing stripes of normal and reverse magnetization.

FIG. 1. Roger Revelle as an instructor at Scripps (circa 1936). Photo by Eugene LaFond. [Reproduced with the permission of the SIO Archives, UCSD.]

With hindsight, the evidence was all there for proclaiming the doctrine of plate tectonics. And when, 10 years later, the puzzle was put together, Scripps unfortunately did not play a leading role. Still, I think of the 1950s as the great era of the Institution. When Roger left in 1961, Scripps had a Navy bigger than that of Costa Rica.


Even as he led the exploration of the Pacific, Roger was active for several years in promoting the International Geophysical Year (IGY). In 1956 he became chairman of the IGY Panel on Oceanography. That same year, Charles David Keeling joined the Scripps Institution staff to head the IGY program on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and to start the measurements at Mauna Loa and Antarctica. And that is why we are here 40 years later. Keeling credits Harry Wexler and Roger Revelle for insisting on the continuity of the measurements; such time series are few and far between and worth their weight in gold.

In 1957, Roger and Hans Suess demonstrated that carbon dioxide had increased in the air as a result of the consumption of fossil fuels, in a famous article published in Tellus (5). Roger’s interest in CO2 was to engage his attention for the rest of his life. In 1965, the President’s Science Advisory Committee Panel on Environmental Pollution under Roger’s leadership published the first authoritative report that recognized CO2 from fossil fuels as a potential global problem (6). Public opinion was influenced through a widely read article in Scientific American (7).

Roger participated in the exploration of the atmospheric greenhouse problem from the 1950s, when it was a cottage industry for a few academics, to the 1990s, when global climate change involved industry and government on an international scale. He once estimated that he had spent 20% of his time keeping current with the issues.


In 1957 Roger and I were among a group that called themselves the American Miscellaneous Society (AMSOC). AMSOC promoted an attempt to drill through the ocean floor into the Earth’s mantle. A test off Guadalupe Island successfully drilled through 200 m of sediments into the basalt in water 4,000 m deep, demonstrating the feasibility of “dynamic positioning.” This MOHOLE project (Fig. 3) eventually failed because of poor Washington management but led some years later to the successful Ocean Drilling Program.

Ocean Leadership

The U.S. ocean program was then firmly in the hands of three men: Maurice Ewing, Columbus Iselin, and Roger Revelle. There has not been a comparable ocean leadership since those days. *

While Revelle served as a founding member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Oceanography (NASCO), the funds budgeted nationally for oceanography rose from $12 million in 1957 to $97 million in 1960. Roger played a major role in organizing the IGY and in forming the Scientific Committee for Ocean Research (SCOR) and the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC), and then served as Chairman of a joint IOC/SCOR Committee on Climate Changes and the Ocean. These organizations continue to play an important role in international oceanography.

Roger enjoyed an international reputation as oceanographer in the 1950s but became better known to the greater scientific community and to the public through his work for the National Academy of Sciences as a science spokesman with broad knowledge of the environment. He worked very hard behind the scenes to frame the important scientific questions and then to secure the resources to answer them. Policy makers looked to him for a reasonable assessment of which scientific problems should take priority. Scientists sought his advice and support to focus research and get it funded. Congressman Emilio Daddario (8) has remarked on Roger’s “combined experience, intelligence and good judgment about issues.”

Building the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), 1954–1961

In parallel with these developments came the beginnings of the UCSD. No oceanographic program, Roger said, could maintain intellectual excellence for more than a generation without an attachment to a great university. The obvious site was some 1,100 acres of largely undeveloped public land just to the north of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Fortuitously, Roger’s initiative coincided with a new master plan for the


This may have changed; in the last several years, Admiral (U.S. Navy, ret.) James Watkins has become a recognized national spokesman for ocean affairs.

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