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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
cal capabilities for ocean science research, they have not had sole attention. In planning for the major global change research programs, the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) and the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS), considerable attention was given to determine whether adequate facilities and capabilities were in place in order to do the ambitious programs. A particular shortcoming was identified in the research community's ability to analyze a very large number of radiocarbon and other tracer samples that were envisioned for WOCE and JGOFS. These chemical tracers, carbon-14 in particular, have become valuable tools for describing oceanographic processes. They provide information on long-term mixing and circulation in the deep ocean, on upwelling, and on air-sea carbon dioxide exchange processes. These processes have major implications for understanding the forces that affect climate variability and the chemical interaction of the carbon cycle and biological productivity. Given the large number of samples needed for WOCE, JGOFS, and other geosciences programs, it was recognized that available analytical and logistical capabilities were inadequate to meet scientific requirements. Plans called for the analysis of up to 4,000 carbon-14 samples annually with precision of 0.3 to 0.4 percent.
Following several workshops and advisory meetings, OCE issued an Announcement of Opportunity in 1987 to establish an ocean science Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility. Newly developed AMS technology could reduce the required sample size by a factor of 1,000, to 250 ml of seawater, for achieving the requisite level of precision. However, considerable effort would be necessary to develop automated sample preparation procedures and new instrumentation for a high level of throughput.
Funds for establishing the AMS facility were identified in the fiscal year 1989 NSF budget request to Congress. Approximately $1.8 million per year for three years was planned for construction, installation, and initial operation. Five institutions submitted proposals. The end result is the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (NOSAMS) Facility at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The facility's goal is to provide the oceanographic community with a large number (up to 4,300 per year) of high-precision radiocarbon analyses. This includes rapid dissemination of the results of these analyses to the user and scientific communities. A commitment to automation has been made throughout the facility, including sample preparation, analysis, and data reduction, and a comprehensive relational database and bar-coding system tracks every sample and every process performed at the facility.
INCREMENTAL ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY
An overall characteristic of ocean science research is the fact that scientific advances and improved technological capabilities are incremental. With few exceptions, such as the hydrothermal vent discoveries from Alvin that are discussed elsewhere in this report, advances in our knowledge of the oceans are measured in small steps. The great advances that have been made in our knowledge of the oceans in the past 50 years are not so much in response to great technological advances, such as in space expeditions sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but rather from the continuous application of technologies and incremental new developments arising from scientific investigations. Essential to scientific advancement are the provision of technology to accomplish the research and providing mechanisms for developing and applying new technologies.
As a relative newcomer to the study of the oceans, compared to naval and fisheries interests, NSF has been a beneficiary of a long history of focused technological and scientific research. During this century and especially since World War II, the major provider of technological capabilities has been the U.S. Navy. There is a long and distinguished list of scientific accomplishments derived from Navy-developed instruments and technologies. These include
SWATH bathymetric sonar,
laser line scan optical sensors,
global positioning satellite system,
ocean bottom seismometers,
seagoing flux gate total field magnetometer,
Alvin and Flip,
acoustic Doppler current meters,
bioluminescence sensors, and
long-term mooring technologies.
NSF's research requirements are oftentimes compatible with capabilities provided for the Navy interests, but there have been issues of accessibility, further refinement, adaptation, and cost-effective usage. Many requirements are unique to ocean science research and therefore require a focused and specific effort to make the right type of measurements at the right scale and with the needed precision and accuracy.
Throughout the period of the IDOE and subsequent reorganizations, nearly all NSF-sponsored technology developments were funded through individual research projects. Observational and measurement capabilities were developed by scientists in direct response to the progression of their scientific inquiry. One example, among thousands, is the successive development of plankton nets and other devices for enumerating and describing the distribution of plankton. Traditional conical nets gave way to multiple opening and closing nets, to which sensors were added to relate physical factors to the abundance of collected plankton. Nets in turn gave way to optical and acoustic sensing systems that work on varying time and space scales. No single device or capability is necessarily an objective. Differing research objectives call for differing research capabilities. Developing new