. "Keynote Lecture The Emergence of the National Science Foundation as a Supporter of Ocean Sciences in the United States." 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
ported elsewhere. By the time the National Science Foundation (NSF) arrived on the scene four years later in 1950, ONR was supporting oceanography at the University of Washington, whose program was essentially put on hold during World War II, and at a number of new centers: Texas A&M, the Chesapeake Bay Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Miami, and, when Maurice Ewing ended his association with Woods Hole, the Lamont Geological Laboratory of Columbia University. Later came Oregon State University and the Universities of Rhode Island and Hawaii.
Many have noted how ONR was the template from which many of NSF's policies and practices were formed. What is sometimes forgotten is the wide range of basic science that ONR supported in those early days. Navy support for oceanography is obvious, but in the beginning ONR provided funding for research ranging from cosmic rays and white dwarf stars, to the structure of protein and the biochemistry of muscle,1 and to developments in nuclear physics and high-speed computing. 2 In the days before there was an NSF or a National Institutes of Health (NIH), ONR was the primary source of federal funding for all basic research supported by the federal government, more than a thousand projects at more than 200 institutions in 1948. The total budget? Less than 30 million dollars per year.3
Roger Revelle, still in uniform, was the first head of ONR's Geophysics Branch whose mandate included meteorology, oceanography, geography, geology, and geophysics. Revelle had returned to Scripps as director by the time I came to work in ONR in 1949. I was the sole program of-ricer for oceanography, and my academic preparation was an undergraduate wartime degree in meteorology, which included a single course in oceanography. But little in the way of scientific expertise was required. In 1949 the principal investigator of each of our contracts was the laboratory director. Each proposal might list a number of individual projects, but the director had the freedom to move funds and scientists from one project to another and to undertake new initiatives. All that was required was a brief quarterly progress report. Our two largest contracts were with Scripps and Woods Hole. When I first arrived, each was for $125,000 a year.
ONR' s role as the sole federal support for oceanographic basic research ended in 1950 with the formation of the National Science Foundation. Alan Waterman, ONR's chief scientist, became NSF's first director, and in time others moved from ONR to NSF. But unlike fields of science less key to the Navy's primary mission, ONR maintained its dominant role in oceanography for a number of years. It was ONR, not NSF, that underwrote the development of programs at Oregon State University and the University of Rhode Island some years after the formation of NSF.4 And it was ONR that underwrote the development of manned submersibles, first the support of Jacques Piccard's bathyscaph Trieste , and later the construction of Woods Hole's Alvin.
When did NSF become the dominant player in support of oceanography? One can look at budgets, and I have, but all who have had any intimacy with the federal budget know that interpretation is not easy. It is difficult enough to assign categories in a contemporary budget. It is almost impossible to reconstruct the actual division of funds after 20 or more years. Major budget items can be tucked away in categories that can be easily overlooked by those doing historical research. For example, one federal report for fiscal year 1969 shows the Navy's contractual oceanographic program 40 percent larger than that of NSF; another shows them essentially equal.5
One must also distinguish between the various types of oceanography. ONR provided relatively little support for biological oceanography, and although the ,Atomic Energy Commission began supporting a wide range. of oceanography, including biological oceanography, in the mid-1950s, as near as I can judge, NSF was the primary source of funds in this field from the beginning. Its total support of biological oceanography was larger than that for all other fields of oceanography in 1962.6
My own sense is that the passing of the torch from ONR to NSF began with the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1958 and was completed about the time the International Decade for Ocean Exploration (IDOE) began in 1970.7 ONR
Pfeiffer, J. 1949. The Office of Naval Research. Scientific American 180(2):11-15.
Moss, M. 1986. Interview with Mavin Moss, Director, Office of Naval Research. Naval Research Reviews 38(3):38-41.
See Pfeiffer, reference 1.
Wayne Burr, one of the first of the Scripps postwar Ph.D.s was able to convince the administration of Oregon State University to begin an oceanography program on the basis of a promise by ONR to provide a research vessel, the Acona (John Byrne, personal communications).
For example: Table 9, page 1-19, in Science and Environment, panel report, No. 1 of the 1969 Report of the Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources (Stratton Commission) shows the 1968 NSF ocean science budget as $19.2 million for 1968. Table A-2, page 21, of Marine Science Affairs, the 1969 report to the President from the National Council on Marine Resources and Engineering Development estimates the 1968 NSF ocean science budget as $35 million.
The summary table of an internal NSF document entitled "10-Year Projection of National Science Foundation Plans to Support Basic Research in Oceanography," dated March 27, 1962, estimates that $10 million of the $19.5 million total oceanography budget for fiscal year 1962 went to support "biological oceanography." The percentage for biology may actually be higher since one might assume that some biological oceanography was supported in two other programs of that table: ''Antarctic Program" and "International Activities."
Lambert, R.B., Jr. 1998. Emergence of Ocean Science Research in NSF, 1951-1980. Marine Technology Society Journal 32(3):68-73. Figure 1. The NSF IGY budget for oceanography for the three year period, 1956-1958 was significantly larger than the entire NSF ocean budget from its beginning in 1952 through fiscal year 1959. The IDOE program that began in 1970 more than doubled the annual NSF nonbiologcal oceanography budget.