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drilling option. Conceptually, OMDP was proposed as an international program; as a practical matter, it soon became apparent that the proprietary interests of the participating oil companies might preclude foreign participation. International unease about the shape of future drilling gave rise to diplomatic complaints and threats to resign from JOIDES and DSDP sponsorship.

Another complicating factor entered the scene when pressure developed to convert the Glomar Explorer, the enormous spy ship that had been in mothballs since its reputed intelligence missions some years earlier, to serve as the platform for any future drilling program. In the space of three years, the scientific and political debate escalated to become one of the most contentious in the history of NSF. Ultimately, the OMDP experiment was abandoned for both scientific and technical reasons, and Glomar Explorer was rejected as too costly to convert and operate. A final completion date was set for the DSDP, and NSF committed to a new, expanded international drilling program. JOIDES would continue as the scientific monitor, but JOI, Inc., would become the operational contractor. JOI selected Texas A&M University as its primary subcontractor for the Ocean Drilling Program, and the conversion of a large commercial drillship, eventually renamed JOIDES Resolution, was soon underway.

NSF tried a series of organizational changes to deal with the tumultuous arguments over the fate of ocean drilling. In 1980, AAEO pulled DSDP out of the Earth Sciences Division and established an Office of Ocean Drilling Programs. The new office was also assigned responsibility for developing the emerging options. Less than a year later, the office was removed from AAEO control, relocated in the Office of the NSF Director, and renamed the Office of Scientific Ocean Drilling (OSOD).

Late in 1982, OSOD was transferred back to AD/AAEO, and a new program director, the third in two years, was named. Six months later, OSOD was assigned to the Division of Ocean Sciences, with instructions to work toward eventual integration of the drilling activity. At the end of 1984, with the ODP just months from its initial cruise, OSOD was disestablished and ODP was folded into the Oceanographic Facilities Section of the Division of Ocean Sciences. The new entity was named the Oceanographic Centers and Facilities Section (OCFS).

With that change, the Division of Ocean Sciences essentially took the form that it maintains today. The only significant oceanographic support managed elsewhere in NSF is for the Antarctic, under the purview of the Office of Polar Programs.

1986-87: The Directorate for Geosciences Emerges

The last significant organizational change affecting NSF Ocean Sciences occurred at the Directorate level. In 1986, a new NSF Director became concerned by continued complaints from the astronomy community about their "miss-assignment" to AAEO. The AD/AAEO, also newly appointed, concluded that there was merit to the argument of the astronomy community. Moreover, he believed that the environmental sciences had never fulfilled the potential of their organizational co-location, in part because the different interests of astronomy diluted the unified management focus that would be needed. Research thrusts such as global climate and the availability of new satellite and computer technologies called for greater integration across the environmental sciences.

In 1986, the Astronomy Division was reassigned to MPS. Concurrently, the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) was established, with the focus on "whole earth" research as its unifying principle. With that change, today's management structure for the ocean sciences was essentially complete.


The Foundation's early and enduring decision to organize research support by discipline was, for many years, a source of difficulty for oceanography. When the Foundation was established in 1950, oceanography was a young and evolving field. Profoundly interdisciplinary, it would not find a unified home in the NSF research support portfolio until 1970, at which time the biological and physical subdisciplines were brought together in an Ocean Science Research Section.

The evolution in the ocean sciences was closely linked to the growth of other environmental sciences. Following NSF's successful management of U.S. participation in the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958), the environmental sciences asserted themselves as separate fields with important research objectives and practices of their own. Environmental sciences received increasing recognition and stature in NSF throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but it was not until much later that they fully came into their own with the establishment of the Geosciences Directorate in 1986.

NSF's early institutional certainty about managing individual project research stands in marked contrast to its ambivalence about the support of large-scale research and facilities. Oceanographers were among the first to challenge NSF reticence in this area, and over the years, ocean science has often been a test case generating new NSF policies and arrangements for the management of "big science" and facilities.

Project Mohole dominated NSF management councils from its inception in 1957 until its demise in 1967. That failure gave rise, however, to NSF' s largest and longest-lived experiment in the support of big science, the Deep Sea Drilling Project. Administratively, these programs were set apart from the rest of the ocean sciences until the mid-1980s, at which time the Ocean Drilling Program was finally brought under the purview of the Division of Ocean Sciences.

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