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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
Total funds granted (top), number of grants (middle), and average size of grant (bottom) for NSF versus ONR awards given to Lamont, 1974-1985. Similar trends are seen in data from Scripps, but Lamont numbers are used here since they can reasonably be expected to represent trends in MG&G as opposed to those in marine biology, chemistry, or physical oceanography.
Deborah Day, the Scripps archivist, suggested a possible answer to this question. The prelude to many key MG&G experiments was the development of a new technology—Woods Hole' s Alvin, Scripps' ocean bottom seismometers, Lamont's airguns, swath mapping systems, and so forth. The Navy tended to take the lead in instrument development in MG&G, but once the technology was proven, NSF would support the science programs that used the technology. In a few cases, successful science programs initiated by ONR would be continued by NSF. It is possible that into the 1970s, ONR was still getting credit for programs it had started but handed off to NSF.
With some exceptions, NSF's decision-making process of judgment by our peers has not been a good source of "venture capital" in MG&G. Rather, the community found this venture capital at ONR, from industry, and from the discretionary funds of institute directors. NSF was quick to support the successful venture, and make them pay off.
The Impact of International Programs
One place in which NSF clearly set a policy direction different from that of ONR was in the encouragement of international collaborations. Initially through the International Geophysical Year (IGY), and later via the International Decade of Ocean Exploration (IDOE), U.S. investigators were encouraged to invite foreign colleagues to the United States with travel support from NSF. This sort of attitude would have been uncharacteristic for an agency like ONR responsible for maintaining a competitive advantage in U.S. science for the sake of national security.
In the area of MG&G, the international program that has had the greatest impact has been the Deep Sea Drilling Program (DSDP) and its successors. Because this is the topic of another paper (see paper by Winterer, this volume), I mention here a few of the highlights. DSDP sampled the basal sediments in Leg 3 along a magnetic-profile in the South Atlantic that established beyond a shadow of a doubt that the seafloor just beneath was indeed the age predicted by the Vine-Matthews hypothesis. The ocean drilling program developed the hydraulic piston corer that became the mainstay for sampling thick, continuous sequences in areas of high sedimentation rate in order to investigate climate change on orbital and suborbital time scales. DSDP and its successors established repositories for logging data and cores and thick volumes of results. It set the standard for interna