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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
period of expansion, other NAS boards, such as the Marine Board and the Polar Research Board, investigated additional marine-related issues. The latter' s 1996 report on the Bering Sea ecosystem (NRC, 1996) complemented efforts of the OSB and provided a comprehensive analysis of the challenges besetting this productive arctic ecosystem.
Ocean institutions continued to develop and made efforts to improve their capabilities. The long-standing oceanographic centers that made up JOI were complemented by an increasing number of academic centers focusing on nearshore issues including fisheries, coastal pollution, and marine toxicology. Responding to these trends, the president of JOI, Admiral James T. Watkins created a new organization of more than 50 marine research institutions, the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE), encompassing a broader array of marine science expertise.
In addition to changing research needs, the political landscape continued to evolve, opening up new opportunities for joint research and improved integration. OSB recognized that important changes were altering research needs and opportunities. The board itself took on the task of reviewing trends in ocean science and provided its views in the 1992 report Oceanography in the Next Decade (NRC, 1992). Working to implement many of the reports' recommendations, JOI and the CORE president, Admiral Watkins, took the case for ocean research to Congress, which subsequently passed the National Oceanographic Partnership Act supporting partnership-based research among federal agencies, academic institutions, and other interests. Led by ONR and with increasing support from NOAA, the National Oceanographic Partnership Program is forging new relationships and cross-cutting approaches to ocean research. It also is worth noting that the recently appointed director of the NSF, Dr. Rita Colwell, has extensive expertise and interest in marine science. The 1998 International Year of the Ocean provided more opportunities to chronicle the importance of continued and increased support for ocean research, although legislation to create an ocean commission died in the final hours of the 105th Congress.
The Factors Driving Ocean Science in the Future
The five factors driving ocean science—basic research, national pride, national defense, economic benefits, and environmental concerns—continue to influence ocean research today. However, in some cases the scope of the factors themselves has evolved. The changing marine environment and our improved understanding of it also are influencing the focus of marine research. Environmental laws and changing concepts of government administration are creating new opportunities and demands for science and research to support responsible decision-making. Overriding concepts of sustainability, biodiversity, biocomplexity, and ecosystem management are moving from theory to implementation. Increased emphasis on partnerships, interdisciplinary research, and cross-cutting projects often combines research goals and brings several factors into play simultaneously.
Historically, the federal government has supported basic oceanographic research. This support fostered the development of our ocean research institutions. Some researchers believe basic research warrants continued government support. In a 1998 report prepared under the guidance of Vice Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), the House Committee on Science issued a report, Unlocking Our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy (House Committee on Science, 1998). The report concluded that there is a continuing need for research driven by a need for basic understanding. Some level of basic oceanographic research will continue to be supported.
However, as the scope and number of critical needs for applied research increases, policy makers are under increasing pressure to support science that directly meets these challenges. Arguably, the research community also has a responsibility to respond to such national priorities. Also, today's ability to analyze, model, and communicate information instantly has altered basic research in that various researchers can immediately begin to apply the work of others to meet specific needs. For example, basic research on ocean dynamics today may have immediate bearing on improving our understanding of the impacts that climate events, such as El Niño or global warming, may have on society.
The demand for blue-water oceanography is today being joined with an increasing demand for coastal oceanography where many environmental challenges exist. Whether this means increased competition among researchers for the same pool of funds is unclear. If the larger goal of increasing overall support for ocean research can be attained, then the needs of different ocean disciplines may be met without compromising a range of research interests.
U.S. leadership in oceanography became a matter of national pride as people increasingly realized that ocean science was important to our continued prosperity. But since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States is no longer locked in the kind of one-on-one competition that for so many years made national pride an important driver. As the primary global superpower in an increasingly interdependent economy, U.S. national pride is to some degree giving way to a sense of global responsibility. Pride in being a world leader is supplanting the former sense of pride based on comparison to a competitor. This is certainly true in the arena of ocean research, where less developed countries will