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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
Figure 1 GEOSECS program cruise tracks, 1972-1978. Reprinted from Craig and Turekian (1980) with permission from Elsevier Science.
Hank Stommel noted "a profound sense of beauty" in seeing for the first time the tracer signal of the Noah Atlantic deep water overflows as they began the abyssal tour, and an intense flurry of activity resulted in a strong collection of papers (Craig, 1974). Feenan Jennings at NSF made sure that the program proceeded.
The Pacific Ocean—The GEOSECS Pacific expedition, from August 1973 to June 1974, on the RV Melville, continued the pattern. The Nansen bottle cast requirement was, thankfully, dropped, but the discordant CO2 data problem, latent in the Atlantic cruise results, was now much worse. Nonetheless the classic picture of the chemical response to "aging" of our global circulating fluid was emerging beautifully, and the first glimpse of a global CO2 picture was tantalizingly close.
A Damoclean list appeared above the chief scientist's bunk of the cruise legs on which major equipment was lost; "Bomber" Takahashi led the list since he had had the bad weather legs, for which we were all grateful. The effort to measure the cosmogenic isotope 32 Si, requiring the processing of a thousand liters of seawater through smelly manganese-loaded fibers, was particularly messy. And the early results were showing very little signal. We were to find much later that the half-life had been in error by a factor of four!
NSF realized at some point that this was an enterprise of historic scale and decided to memorialize it on film. A contract was awarded, and a very new cinematographer was flown to Tahiti. The movie is still fun to watch, but it was his personal comment afterwards that shook me. "My God!" he said, "I didn't know the work was that hard!" A plane crash in Samoa sadly resulted in death and injury for the team.
The Indian Ocean—The strains of multiyear devotion to such an all-consuming effort were beginning to show, and by the end of the Pacific cruise, time was needed to regroup, analyze samples, upgrade equipment, and repair relationships with NSF, which, through an evolving stream of program managers, had kept close watch on progress. The urge to focus on showing success and building scientific knowledge, through work on the Atlantic and Pacific results, was getting in the way of creating the Indian Ocean expedition. This illustrates a common problem of large programs—the balance between keeping the technical skills and facility in readiness, and taking definite individual time for research.