Evolving Institutional Arrangements for U.S. Ocean Sciences
WILLIAM J. MERRELL, MARY HOPE KATSOUROS, AND GLENN P. BOLEDOVICH
The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and Environment
Our understanding of the oceans has changed markedly since the creation of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1863. In assessing where federally supported ocean research and science are going in the next millennium, it is instructive to understand where we have been. This paper highlights some of the major institutional forces that have influenced national ocean research in the past 135 years. We discuss the evolution of federal agencies, with emphasis on how the NAS, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have influenced the development and direction of ocean science and oceanographic institutions. Based on this historical understanding we next discuss emerging national needs for ocean research in light of the principal factors that drive ocean science.
Factors That Drive Ocean Science
There are five principal factors driving ocean science: basic research, national pride, national defense, economic benefits, and environmental concerns. Changing national needs influence the weight and priority given to these factors and their significance shifts over time.
Basic Research—Curiosity and Understanding
The quest to improve our understanding of the world around us is the driving force for scientific inquiry. Basic research, as it applies to oceanography, has the primary goal of understanding ocean phenomena. The nature of basic research is such that its purposes are broad and the results often are not readily predicted. Although basic research often supports other objectives, there is an inherent value in improved knowledge and understanding of fundamental systems.
National pride is a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation's accomplishments above others. A prime example was the race with the former Soviet Union for the exploration of space. Support for research and exploration often increases when the connection between science and national prestige becomes apparent to policy makers and the public.
National defense typically means the protective steps taken by a country to guard against attack, espionage, sabotage, or crime. The development of oceanography in the United States grew in large part because of national security interests during World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. In the Department of Defense, the Navy has responsibility for marine research and has supported extensive scientific investigations to provide a more complete understanding of the ocean environment as necessary for our national security.
Nations have always viewed the seas as a source of wealth. Scientific knowledge and technical capabilities in the marine environment often have been supported to maintain and expand our national economy. Two overriding concerns are (1) avoiding being confronted with a shortage of raw materials and (2) developing marine resources to advance economic growth. Principal economic uses of the sea are energy, mineral and fishery production, transportation, and recreation. In the United States, these activities are carded out largely by the private sector; however, federal, state, and local authorities often regulate the industries.
In the 1950s, research into the impacts of marine pollutants flourished after the incident of mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan. In the 1960s, a series of alarming events raised our national environmental consciousness. For example, the discovery that dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was the agent responsible for the inability of pelican eggs to hatch verified Rachel Carson's (1962) warning in Silent Spring of chemical dangers lurking in the environment. At about the same time, oil from an offshore drilling rig blowout coated beaches in Santa Barbara, California.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AND U.S. OCEANOGRAPHY
The Early Years
On March 3, 1863, as its last act on its last day, the 37th Congress passed legislation establishing "an independent organization to address scientific issues critical to the defense of the country." That evening, Abraham Lincoln signed this bill—creating an organization that would be known as the National Academy of Sciences—into law.
Its charter mandated that "whenever called upon by any department of the government" the NAS was to "investigate, examine... and report upon any subject of science or art." Federal agencies made ten requests to NAS in the first year. Three were ocean and defense related:
The Committee on Protecting the Bottom of Iron Clad Ships from Injury by Saltwater: On May 8, 1863, the Navy Department through the chief of its Bureau of Navigation, Admiral Charles H. Davis, asked the Academy to investigate protection for the bottoms of iron ships from injury by salt water. Wolcott Gibb's committee, appointed the next day, reported that a metallic coating or alloy was commonly used to prevent or arrest corrosion of metals and that substances in paints often were used to destroy accumulations of plants or animals on ship bottoms. The committee provided its report in seven months and was discharged early the next year.
The Compass Committee: Also on May 8, 1863, the Academy was asked to conduct an investigation of magnetic deviations in iron ships and means for better correction of their compasses. Alexander Bache chaired the committee appointed on May 20 and made his report with seven subreports on January 7, 1864.
The Committee to Examine Wind and Current Charts and Sailing Directions: The third request was for recommendations regarding the proposed discontinuation of Matthew Fontaine Maury's Wind and Current Charts and Sailing Directions. The committee's view was less than favorable, finding the charts to be "a most wanton waste of valuable paper" that "embrace much, which is unsound in philosophy, and little that is practically useful" It recommended that they be discontinued in their current form. In Maury's defense, his charts did, in fact, reduce sailing times, and a simplified version was republished 20 years later.
TABLE 1 Era of Early Institution Building
Dates of Origin
California Academy of Sciences, California
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biological Lab in Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Hopkins Marine Station, California
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California
University of Washington, Friday Harbor Labs, Washington
These early ocean committees set the tone for the Academy's future role in advancing ocean science in support of national security. But, for the next fifty years, federal agencies made no major marine research requests to NAS. During this time, however, a number of small marine laboratories were established and were used by biologists and their students from nearby universities during the summer months. Some of these were and still are supported by state funds, whereas others received funds from private foundations. As these seaside biological stations grew so did the scope of their investigations and the interests of the scientists using them. Some of them grew to become oceanographic laboratories. Table 1 indicates the dates when some of these early oceanographic institutions began.
In 1916, the National Academy of Sciences formed the National Research Council (NRC) to improve cooperation among government, academic, industrial, and other research organizations. The principal aims in creating the NRC were to encourage investigations of natural phenomena, increase the use of research to develop U.S. industries, strengthen national defense, and promote national security and welfare.
World Wars Spur Investment and Advances in Ocean Science
With the outbreak of World War I, the federal government sought the assistance of the NAS-NRC. to support the national defense. From 1916 to 1918, three committees were formed:
The Committee on Physics chaired by Robert A. Millikan,
The Submarine Investigations Subcommittee chaired by Robert A. Millikan, and
The Committee on Navigation Specifications for the Emergency Fleet chaired by Lewis S. Bauer.
Also during this time, NAS proceedings found that basic marine research was "a realm in unsurpassed promise for the fruits of investigation." But these fruits proved hard to pick. In 1919, a Committee on Oceanography was formed and chaired by Henry Bigelow. The purpose of this committee was to survey ocean life, but it disbanded in 1923 with "frustrated members feeling they could serve no useful purpose."
In 1927, the Committee on Oceanography was reformed with Frank L. Lillie as chair and Henry Bigelow as secretary. The committee was charged to consider the U.S. role in a worldwide oceanographic research program. The committee produced Oceanography: Its Scope, Problems and Economic Importance (NAS, 1929) and The International Aspects of Oceanography (NAS, 1937). The Lillie Committee and its reports highlighted national pride and economic factors as drivers for increased oceanographic research. They pointed out the lack of U.S. research vessels and shore facilities, and concluded that the nation was far behind many European nations in the study of physical oceanography and marine biology.
The reports led to an effort to build up national oceanographic institutions, including enhanced facilities at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Washington. The Lillie Committee also recommended the establishment of a central oceanographic research institution on the East Coast to promote research and education and to provide a place to integrate the various research activities that were being pursued by private institutions and federal agencies. This led to the establishment of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in 1930 with a $2.5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Lillie became the chair of the WHOI Board, and Bigelow became the WHOI director.
Post-World War II: A Golden Age for Oceanography
The rapid development of technologies during World War II resulted in an increased appreciation of science and the importance of ocean research for national defense. On August 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the law creating the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Its primary mission was to secure the collaboration of top-level civilian scientists in all fields of research having a bearing on national security. The Navy worked out a contract arrangement acceptable to the universities that were to undertake the research. The agreements specifically ensured that the scientists involved would retain a large degree of academic freedom by allowing them to initiate projects "in fundamental research without restrictions" — in nuclear physics, medicine, physics, chemistry, mathematics, electronics, mechanics, and oceanography.
At the urging of the Navy, a second Committee on Oceanography chaired by Detlev Bronk was formed in 1948 to assess the state of oceanographic research as part of a larger ONR effort to prepare a long-range national plan. This committee produced Oceanography 1951 (NAS, 1952) and again reinforced the issue of national pride by describing the United States as far behind other maritime nations in its support of oceanographic research for national defense, transportation, and the exploitation of natural resources. The report found the number of U.S. oceanographers to be fewer than 100. It recommended that $750,000 be allocated to train oceanographers and that additional support be provided for basic research in biological and chemical oceanography.
Meanwhile in 1950, Congress authorized the creation of the National Science Foundation to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and to serve other purposes. The President approved the act on May 10, 1950. NSF's support for oceanographic research would prove to be a valuable asset, making important contributions in the advancement of an improved national marine science infrastructure.
It was ONR, however, that continued to take a leadership role. In the 1950s, ONR supported 80 to 90 percent of the oceanographic research occurring in the academic community. ONR concurred with the findings of Oceanography 1951 and resolved to build up U.S. capabilities including new facilities, ships, and equipment. In 1956, a third NAS Committee on Oceanography (NASCO) was formed at the request of ONR, this time by Art Maxwell who was impressed with the work produced by the Lillie Committee. NASCO became one of the most important, productive, and influential committees in the history of the Academy. It formed more than 20 panels and task groups to examine specific oceanographic challenges and opportunities. The committee produced Oceanography, 1960 to 1970 (NAS, 1959), an outline for future oceanographic research, and Economic Benefits from Oceanographic Research (NAS, 1964), which proved to have a significant effect on oceanographic research as well as on relations between the government and the NAS.
Maxwell personally attended NASCO meetings for ONR. Together with Gordon Lill and Feenan Jennings, Maxwell produced a complementary internal report The Next Ten Years of Oceanography (the "TENOC" report; Lill et al., 1959), which was endorsed by the Chief of Naval Operations in 1959 as a plan to increase research funding and provide additional buildings, ships, and pier construction. The additional support was concentrated at ten institutions: Scripps, Woods Hole, and the following universities: Washington, Columbia, Miami, Rhode Island, Oregon State, Texas A&M, New York, and Johns Hopkins.
Oceanography had achieved an importance that was unforeseen at the close of World War II. Outreach efforts triggered interest from leading policy makers, including President John F. Kennedy who in a letter to congressional leaders stated, "We are just at the threshold of our knowledge of the oceans, . . . [This] knowledge is more than a
matter of curiosity. Our very survival may hinge upon it." This status had been achieved largely through Navy interest in the oceans. ONR-sponsored oceanography roared into the 1960s, solidifying a strong infrastructure for blue-water oceanographic institutions in the United States. The percentage of NSF funding also increased, resulting in an academic structure based primarily on supporting federal research with little academic and local funding.
Expanding Requirements and Shifting Priorities
As the influence and support of ONR, NSF, and NAS drove oceanographic research into the 1960s, there arose a renewed interest in the economic and environmental aspects of ocean research. The Mansfield Amendment requiring ONR's ocean research to be defense related caused some uncertainty and ultimately shifted responsibility for some types of basic research to NSF. Legislation in support of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration (IDOE) nearly doubled NSF's funding for ocean science. The National Sea Grant College Act was introduced by Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, and on its passage in 1966 the program initially was placed under NSF. In the same year, Congress passed the Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966 authorizing a Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources, more commonly known today as the Stratton Commission.
The primary objectives of the Stratton Commission were to support the expanding economy and develop marine resources. In January 1969, the Stratton Commission released its influential report Our Nation and the Sea (CMSER, 1969). The report made 126 recommendations spread over 17 categories. From these recommendations a flurry of legislation was enacted: the Coastal Zone Management Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Based on the report's recommendations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was established in 1970 with Robert White as its first administrator. NOAA was tasked with administering these new laws; conducting integrated ocean and atmospheric research, and Earth data collection; and providing related grants for research, education, and advisory services.
Other important environmental legislation such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, was enacted in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed as an independent agency within the Executive branch. At the international level, negotiations of a new treaty on the Law of the Sea were initiated in the early 1970s. As the environmental movement grew, so did the number of ocean-related environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Greenpeace and the Center for Marine Conservation. Many coastal laboratories expanded their research into marine pollution and living marine resources; however, the blue-water institutions with longer traditions of basic research were not as quick to move into these emerging fields.
The NAS remained active following the release of the Stratton Commission report. In the early 1970s, NAS convened the Ocean Affairs Board chaired by Robert Morse. The board produced several important reports on topics ranging from the Law of the Sea, to climate prediction, numerical modeling, and offshore petroleum resources. Later in the 1970s, the NAS established the Ocean Sciences Board and the Ocean Policy Committee. The Ocean Sciences Board, chaired by John Steele, produced reports on NOAA, the need for increased large-scale marine research on climate, and other issues in the 1980s. The Ocean Policy Committee, chaired by Edward Miles and Paul Fye, produced reports on the Law of the Sea, fisheries, and other international marine policy issues.
The expansion of ocean-related research led the academic community to form its own associations, for example, the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) and the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML). In 1976, ten leading U.S. blue-water oceanographic institutions formed the Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI), Inc. to facilitate and foster the integration of program and facility requirements and to bring to bear the collective capabilities of the individual oceanographic institutions on research planning and management of ocean sciences. JOI continues to manage the Ocean Drilling Program and the U.S. Science Support Program.
In 1983, NAS merged its ocean science and policy boards to form the Board on Ocean Sciences and Policy. John Slaughter chaired the board that produced several reports on oil development, ocean dumping, and climate. In 1985, the board was renamed the Ocean Studies Board (OSB). Walter Munk was the first chair, followed by John Sclater, Carl Wunsch, William Merrell, and Kenneth Brink. The OSB has produced more than 50 reports on a broad array of topics ranging from climate to coastal ecosystems and from fisheries and marine mammals to improved integration of science and policy. The number of committees of the board expanded, including the Committees on Major U.S. Ocean Research Programs, U.S.-Mexico Collaboration for Ocean Science Research, Operational Global Ocean Observing System, Fish Stock Assessment Methods, and Ecosystem Management for Sustainable Marine Fisheries.
As the range of OSB committees indicates, support for oceanographic research in the 1980s began to increasingly reflect the demand and need to address a diverse range of issues and problems. This trend continued into the 1990s. The president of JOI, Dr. D. James Baker, was appointed by newly elected President Clinton to head NOAA. The OSB reviewed NOAA and Navy research programs and convened Committees on Science and Policy for the Coastal Ocean, Identifying High-Priority Science to Meet National Coastal Needs, Biological Diversity in Marine Systems, and Low-Frequency Sound and Marine Mammals. Throughout this
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
continue to rely on the United States and other developed countries to provide much of the science to support important ocean and marine resource policy decisions.
The importance of ONR to the advancement of ocean science cannot be underestimated. In the wake of the Cold War, ONR continues to substantially fund ocean research and is playing a leading role in the successful implementation of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program. But our understanding of national defense is itself evolving. Increasingly, it is referred to as national security and includes notions of economic and environmental security. Undoubtedly, national defense will continue to be a major driver of ocean research. However, budget pressures may reduce support for basic research in favor of applied science linked directly to meeting priority security concerns.
Despite concerns for environmental integrity and declines in the populations of many fish and other marine resources, economic opportunities in the ocean continue to drive ocean research. In some cases, such as fisheries, the economic revival of a now-compromised industry is driving increased science. At the same time, new economic opportunities are driving ocean science. For example, the discovery of new life forms around thermal vents in the deep ocean is resulting in expanding research into marine pharmacology. The economic importance of fisheries, marine transportation and trade, coastal tourism, and mineral development will continue to drive the need for science to promote wise decision making, balance conflicts among users, and promote sustainable practices.
Clearly, environmental concerns will continue to be an increasingly important driver of ocean science. Just 30 years ago, economics was the primary driver as evidenced by the work of the Stratton Commission. Today, climate change, seasonal events such as El Niño, depleted fisheries, nutrient enrichment, harmful algal blooms, dying coral reefs, coastal water pollution, and other environmental challenges are driving a larger share of the investment in marine research. Implementing principles of sustainable development, that is, the balancing of economic and environmental objectives, will require increased investment in science to provide the basis for resource use decisions. For example, increased interest in science is a fundamental result of employing precautionary practices because science will provide the basis for improved assessments of impacts and for reducing the uncertainties posed by potentially high-risk activities.
The outlook for investment in ocean science is bright in part because there are so many critical and emerging national needs for improved information on oceans, marine ecosystems, and marine resources. However, despite the rapid rate of change and technological advancement during the past 30 years, the nation has not updated its ocean policy since the Stratton Commission. For example, 30 years ago we did not have rights and responsibilities for the exclusive economic zone—a national marine area larger than the land mass of the entire country for which we have no research strategy or integrated management plans.
ONR, NAS, NSF, other agencies, and the oceanographic community at large have done a fairly good job of accommodating and adjusting to changing ocean science and policy needs. However, rapid change and growth have made it difficult to keep an eye on the big picture. If ocean research is to result in improved policy making and best serve the public and future generations, there is a need to undertake a review of where we are going and to set a path to get us there. There is a need for a collaborative effort that includes marine scientists, government policy makers, industry, and environmental interests to forge a national ocean strategy.
Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts.
Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources (CMSER). 1969. Pp. 21-22 in Our Nation and the Sea: A Plan for National Action . U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
House Committee on Science. 1998. Unlocking Our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. http://www.house.gov/science/science_policy_report.htm
Lill, G.G., A.E. Maxwell, and F.D. Jennings. 1959. The Next Ten Years of Oceanography. Internal Memo, Office of Naval Research.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1929. Oceanography: Its Scope, Problems, and Economic Importance. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1937. International Aspects of Oceanography: Oceanographic Data and Provisions for Oceanographic Research. National Academy of Sciences, Washington D.C.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1952. Oceanography, 1951: A Report on the Present Status of the Science of the Sea National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, Washington D.C.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1959. Oceanography 1960 to 1970 . National Academy Press, Washington D.C.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1964. Economic Benefits from Oceanographic Research, a Special Report. National Research Council, Washington, D.C.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1969. Oceanic Quest: The International Decade of Ocean Exploration. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 1979. The Continuing Quest: Large-Scale Ocean Science for the Future. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
National Research Council (NRC). 1992. Oceanography in the Next Decade: Building New Partnerships. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
National Research Council (NRC). 1996. The Bering Sea Ecosystem. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.