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The past 27 years has seen a broadening, strengthening, and maturing of UNOLS. As a concept, UNOLS helped define a new cooperative way of conducting oceanographic research. Together with NSF's International Decade of Ocean Exploration program, a new era of U.S. oceanographic research was initiated—one that provided opportunities for all competent ocean scientists who were willing to engage in cooperative research. Today, UNOLS consists of 57 academic institutions that operate significant marine science programs: 19 of these institutions operate the fleet of 29 research vessels—the strongest, most capable fleet of oceanographic research vessels in the world.

Several of the institutions that dropped out are again members, but not as vessel operators. Over the years, several additional institutions have joined as vessel-operating laboratories. These include the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, the Bermuda Biological Station, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Since 1972 the fleet has changed. Seven of the original thirty-five vessels are still in service, these have been joined by twenty-two new vessels. The size distribution of the fleet is shown in Table 2.

During its more than quarter century of existence, the UNOLS charter has been repeatedly adopted every three years. It has been amended or revised 11 times. Today UNOLS still operates according to the original concept so laboriously formulated in 1970 and 1971; it is larger, more sophisticated, and stronger than ever. As pointed out in the 25-year history of UNOLS, available on the UNOLS Web site (, "UNOLS will continue to be a major presence in U.S. oceanography for the next twenty-five years. Today it stands as a model of inter-agency and federal/academic coordination. It has developed a flexible, cost-effective management structure. It emphasizes an entrepreneurial atmosphere to keep the fleet at the forefront of technology while maintaining the cost-effective structure. The close coordination with academic


Size Distribution of UNOLS Fleet


Number of Vessels




Over 200 feet



150-200 feet



100-150 feet



65-100 feet







SOURCE: UNOLS (1972) and Anonymous (1996).

institutions results in substantial cost savings. It encourages the collegial atmosphere that leads to close cooperation between the operators. As a result of these factors, the UNOLS fleet is an integral part of our nation's science program."

The U.S. oceanographic research program is the foremost in the world. UNOLS has been a major contributor to this position of leadership. Moreover, it serves as a model of how scientists and scientific institutions can cooperate to reach the highest levels of scientific achievement.


The authors are indebted to scientific colleagues who have reflected on the days of debate and development of UNOLS. They include Mary Johrde, Art Maxwell, and David Ross. The support of the archivist of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is gratefully acknowledged. Finally, this report would not have been possible without the competent and dedicated efforts of our assistant at Oregon State University, Carol Mason. To all we extend our deep appreciation.



Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources (CMSER). 1969a. Pp. 21-22 in Our Nation and the Sea: A Plan for National Action . U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources (CMSER). 1969b. Pp. 42-65 in Panel Report: Science and Environment. Volume I., U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Lill, G.G., A.E. Maxwell, and F.D. Jennings. 1959. The Next Ten Years of Oceanography. Internal Memo, Office of Naval Research.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1959. Oceanography 1960 to 1970 . Volume 1: Introduction and Summary of Recommendations. National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1970. A National Oceanography Laboratory System . National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

Treadwell, T.K., D.S. Gorsline, and R. West. 1988. History of the U.S. Academic Oceanographic Research Fleet and the Sources of Research Ships. UNOLS Fleet Committee. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. 55 pp.

University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS). 1972. First Annual Report of UNOLS Advisory Council to Federal Funding Agencies. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. 43 pp. + Appendices.

Wenk, E., Jr. 1972. The Politics of the Ocean. University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington. 590 pp.

Unpublished Reports

Anonymous. 1996. The University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System: Celebrating 25 Years as the Nation's Premier Oceanographic Research Fleet. UNOLS Web Site: (

Anonymous. 1998. UNOLS Charter (as of July 15, 1989). UNOLS Web Site: (

Barber, R., J.V. Byrne, A.E. Maxwell, R. Ragotzkie, and S. Savage. Au

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