Ocean Sciences at the National Science Foundation: Early Evolution
National Science Foundation (ret.)
My comments focus on the first two decades of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and on the growth of facilities support, since ships and related shore facilities were essential to the development of ocean science—also because that's what I did at NSF.
I arrived at NSF about 40 years ago in early November 1958, as program assistant in a newly established Specialized Facilities Program in the Biological and Medical Sciences Division (BMS). BMS was one of two original divisions; the other was Mathematics, Physics and Engineering (MPE), which made up the research portion of the organization. NSF began in 1950, early in the post-World War II era, in a very modest fashion. At the outset it had a mandated budget ceiling of only $15 million. This ceiling was removed in August 1953 (fiscal year 1954), but still the annual budgets remained small.
Where was oceanography in this fledgling agency? Research grants for various phases of ocean-related sciences were handled by relevant disciplinary programs. In MPE the effort was somewhat focused within the Earth Sciences Program, which supported research in geology, geophysics, and geochemistry, key areas of interest to ocean science. In BMS, support was more diffuse and the definitions of what constituted ocean science were more difficult to pin down.
According to Dick Lambert, who has done an exhaustive job on the nonbiological NSF ocean science research support for 1950-1980, in fiscal year 1952 there were 3 Earth Sciences (ES) grants awarded of which one was for oceanography; by fiscal year 1954 there were 27 ES grants of which five were oceanography—not exactly a big splash for a beginning.
Though early support levels were minimal, by the mid-1950s NSF participated in such interagency activities as securing support for a National Academy of Sciences Committee on Oceanography (NASCO). The first major interagency role was assignment of responsibility in 1955 for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Funding for IGY was handled as an entirely separate appropriation, and a separate office was established in NSF attached to the director's office. The magnitude of this assignment is reflected by the fact that IGY budgets equaled total NSF budgets for each of the fiscal years 1955-1958, and IGY's overall total of $55 million equaled NSF funding for the agency's first six years. The IGY field program began officially in July 1957.
The growing field of oceanography received a boost from IGY, but NSF-supported programs awaited the impact of two other events: the offspring of IGY, namely the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) and the national reaction to Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that beat us into space on October 4, 1957. This led not only to the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the space program but also to immediate talk about "inner space" and the importance of the oceans. By May 1959 the Federal Council for Science and Technology was in operation and had set up an Interagency Committee on Oceanography (ICO) to develop an annual National Oceanographic Program. We were into an era of proliferating structures for the coordination of scientific activities at the federal level. The President's Science Advisory Committee had a Panel on Oceanography whose first major report recommended federal reorganization and the formation of a "wet NASA." Agency budgets expanded, staff related to oceanography increased, and internal organizational structures grew more complex. Internal coordination became the rage with its own alphabet of committees, panels, groups, and so forth. NSF reflected it all.
This was the world into which the BMS Specialized Facilities Program emerged with its rather freewheeling approach to support for construction of buildings, boats and ships, equipment, boat basins, operational support for ships, summer research training at field stations, museum collection maintenance, and much more. A handful of such grants were made by BMS as early as fiscal year 1955, paving the way for initiating the program in fiscal year 1959. It was the kind of program that could only have existed early in the history of the agency and within the portion (BMS) that felt
the need to play "catch up" with the larger division (MPE), where several major facilities projects had already been launched. It was also based on the conviction that biologists were going to need to do "their own thing" with respect to marine science facilities, including ships. BMS had declined, in the late 1950s, to participate with MPE in planning for a major new oceanographic ship—the Atlantis II for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Catching the groundswell of the post-Sputnik push in oceanography and further motivated by the prospect of IIOE, BMS Specialized Facilities Program was soon "specializing" in ship construction and conversion.
IIOE was the answer to the "what-next" question following IGY. It was planned and managed by NSF programs directly involved in oceanographic support. The Earth Sciences Program had added John Lyman as associate program director for oceanography in the late 1950s and Dick Bader as an assistant program director by mid-1961. In addition to the new facilities program, BMS brought in marine biologist Dixy Lee Ray as a special consultant to the division director of BMS, John Wilson. Reorganizations, expansion, and program additions were occurring throughout the Foundation. The BMS Facilities Program began under the direction of Louis Levin, then deputy division director, who subsequently moved to head the newly established Office of Institutional Programs in May 1961. Harve Carlson, returning from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in London moved into Levin's position only to move up in November 1961 to become assistant director of BMS when John Wilson became deputy director to Alan Waterman. Jack Spencer was recruited to head the facilities program. In May 1961 an independent Office of Antarctic Programs (OAP) was separated from the director's office and became involved in oceanography.
Probably the first grant for IIOE was awarded in fiscal year 1961 to NASCO to perform certain aspects of external coordination. Internally, the BMS independence about ships for biologists required that active coordination between MPE and BMS be developed at the outset of planning for IIOE. In September 1961, a first meeting regarding ships for HOE was attended by John Wilson, Carlson, Lyman, and Ray. By then Lyman and Ray had already associated long enough to have developed their infamous coordinating style from which many quotable quotes emerged. It was fortuitous that Dick Bader arrived when he did and picked up the role of facilities coordinator. In October 1961, he began action to establish a facilities panel for ES Oceanography. It became a memorable road show in 1962, as it undertook a series of site visits to virtually all academic institutions then engaged in ocean-related programs. The purpose was to assess the quality of staff, research, and training activities, and above all the extent and nature of equipment and facilities available for these programs.
In short order, a specialized BMS Facilities Program had three ships underway: construction of the Eastward at Duke University Marine Lab to be a research and training ship for biologists from any institution; conversion of the motor sailer Te Vega at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station, for research and training and use as an adjunct vessel for the IIOE; and consideration of the former presidential yacht Williamsburg for the major biological ship for Indian Ocean cruises. The objective had been "no new ships solely for IIOE," but attempts to find a suitable leased ship for the biologists had failed. The Williamsburg stirred controversy from all sides. I first met Dick Bader at a meeting about the Williamsburg chaired by Dixy. He and I rose from opposite sides of the table and questioned the same well-advertised problems about this old vessel. Henceforth, we worked together on planning for the ship's conversion, which led to my participation as a BMS representative on Bader's facilities panel and to the transfer of funds back and forth between the BMS and ES programs for joint support of ships and other items. BMS built one more significant ship, the Alpha Helix , which was used for expeditionary field biology and medical research sometimes unrelated to the marine environment, but for most of the 1960s ships provided to academic institutions were conversions and jointly funded by BMS and MPE.
The Atlantis II, of course, was really a ship from the late 1950s; WHOI had the initial grant in hand in December 1959, but IIOE probably smoothed the way for significant cost overruns and problems along the way. This was the first ship specifically designed for research at sea within the category now known as the academic fleet. Upon completion and commissioning in 1963 the Atlantis II headed directly for the Indian Ocean. And ultimately Anton Brunn (aka Williamsburg ) and Te Vega followed.
By 1965, Earth and Atmospheric Science. Sections were split off from MPE and in combination with Office of Antarctic Programs formed a new Division of Environmental Sciences (DES). But informal coordination between DES and BMS was still the basis for a semblance of unity for ocean science in NSF. In 1966 following Dick Bader's departure, I moved into an associate program director position in Earth Sciences. Taking a page from Dick' s book, my first attempt was to establish a single NSF Advisory Panel for Ship Operations, to create formal procedures for block funding for ships and guidelines for evaluating and managing this very essential support for oceanography. The panel and annual review process were in place by the time the Oceanography Program in DES had evolved into a section (1967) and BMS had finally expanded its organization with the establishment of a Biological Oceanography Program in a newly created Environmental and Systematic Biology Section (1968). Ed Chin was the first program director and Jean DeBell was associate program director; I was now program director for an Oceanographic Facilities Program, DES.
A closing footnote on BMS Specialized Facilities: in the eight years that I was associated with the program, awards totaling $13.9 million were made for oceanographic
items and $22.9 million for all other categories. For six of the eight years the program had separate funds for operational support of facilities and these too were divided between oceanographic ($9.1 million) and all other ($5.3 million). It was a program of considerable significance for those years, and to its everlasting credit it provided the first block grant (fiscal year 1959) for ship operations support, as a format for future ship support. In spite of major difficulties in adapting the old ship for biological cruises, the Anton Brunn served well for two years in the Indian Ocean and during a third year off the west coast of South America. The Eastward gave biologists an opportunity to learn oceangoing techniques and to work effectively with other disciplines. With its interinstitutional programs, Eastward could be said to have led the way toward the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS). And finally, Alpha Helix managed to have a second career as a general purpose ship for the University of Alaska.
In 1968 further consolidations were needed to create a better structure for ocean sciences inside NSF. It is of interest to note, however, that ocean-related activities were scattered far more widely and variously among the agencies around town. Congressional cries for a more coordinated effort and a single or predominant agency culminated in passage of the Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966, which established yet another council and a Commission on Marine Sciences, Engineering and Resources, the Stratton Commission.
The January 1969 report from this study group recommended the formation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and, among many other items, that a small group of (academic) institutions be designated by the federal government as University-National Laboratories (UNLs) and be equipped to undertake major marine science with broad continuing support. Also, support for these UNLs should not preclude support for other existing institutions. Understandably this recommendation set off wild hopes, fears, and expectations among the academic oceanographic institutions (see paper by John Byrne and Bob Dinsmore, this volume). Would there truly be substantial sustaining support for a few? And what would happen to all the others?
The debate about how to respond to the report was underway in October 1969, when William McElroy, who became the third NSF Director in July, set in motion a major reorganization of NSF based on provisions of the National Science Foundation Act of 1968. Four assistant directorships were established: Research, Education, Institutional Programs, and National and International Programs. The latter became the home of Antarctic Programs, International Decade of Ocean Exploration, and Oceanographic Facilities and Support (OFS) among others. OFS became the site for developing the UNOLS concept, which derived from the commission report's UNLs. UNOLS stands for University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, as you know, and it attempts to achieve some of the goals set forth by the Stratton Commission.
Early in the UNOLS debate while Scripps still clung firmly to the hope of achieving national laboratory status, Paul Fye at WHOI read the handwriting on the wall and decided to take a lead position with respect to whatever this UNOLS thing was going to become. He lent Art Maxwell of his staff to the planning process and recruited Capt. Robertson Dinsmore, then retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard, as a member of WHOI's facilities operations. Art Maxwell had been a participant on Dick Bader's facilities panel; Bob Dinsmore had spent his last Coast Guard tour in Washington on the oceanographic scene. Thus, when UNOLS became a reality, Paul Fye was in position to host the executive offices and offer Bob Dinsmore as first executive secretary. He wisely declined federal support for Bob's salary, saying the executive secretary of UNOLS should belong to the community. It was Bob who put UNOLS together as an operating organization. His knowledge of ships, oceanography, and above all the Washington scene, was invaluable to the process.
I leave the rest of the NSF organization story to Sandra Toye and the UNOLS story to John Byrne and Bob Dinsmore.