National Academies Press: OpenBook
« Previous: Fifty Years of Ocean Discovery
Suggested Citation:"Argo to ARGO." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

Argo to ARGO


Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce

A while back, Russ Davis came in to give a seminar at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about ARGO—the Array for Real-Time Geostrophic Oceanography. I'm very excited about this plan for an array of 3,200 profiling drifting floats distributed globally at 1500 meters. It is clearly the next logical step towards a true global ocean observing system.

The name ARGO made me think back to my first long cruises in the 1960s in the Indian Ocean aboard the Scripps R/V Argo as part of the International Indian Ocean Expedition. This is where I first learned oceanography, with long talks in the evening under the tropical stars with Henry Stommel, Jule Charney, Allan Robinson, John Knauss, Bruce Taft, and others who became life-long friends. Equipment and navigation then seems crude compared to what we have now, but those were happy days when someone else was responsible for funding my research.

It was then that I began to get interested in global observing systems. Since then it has been great fun to participate in the kaleidoscope of acronyms: IDOE (International Decade of Ocean Exploration), GARP (Global Atmospheric Research Program), MODE (Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment), ISOS (International Southern Ocean Studies), JGOFS (Joint Global Ocean Flux Study), a host of equatorial programs leading to TOGA (Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere) and WOCE (World Ocean Circulation Experiment); and now to see today's CLIVAR (Climate Variability and Prediction Program), BECS (Basin-wide Extended Climate Study), GODAE (Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment), and ARGO. In spite of an initial reluctance to come together in cooperative programs, we oceanographers, led by Feenan Jennings and his IDOE band at NSF led by Worth Nowlin and Bill Merrell, have learned to do that while preserving individuality and freedom of research.

This is a fitting time for such a celebration of ocean science—because I believe we are on the verge of getting the necessary pieces to understand the ocean. Why do I think that?

First, the results of NOAA's TOGA TAO (Tropical Atmosphere-Ocean) array in the successful forecast of the 1997-1998 El Niño show the wisdom of the ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) community in putting this together. So from the early ideas of Sir Gilbert Walker, sitting in New Delhi wondering about the cause of the 1899 Monsoon failure and its affect on crops to Jacob Bjerknes .seeing the need to involve the ocean, we now have the rudiments of an operational system in place. What's more, armed with the success of forecasts and with the considerable help of the academic community, we at NOAA have been able to achieve operational status for the TOGA array. That means long-term funding as part of our operational budget. This is a major step—the first new operational funding for ocean monitoring in decades.

Second, the success of the altimeter satellite TOPEX (Ocean Topography Experiment)/Poseidon. Once again the community came together—Carl Wunsch and his colleagues in the United States and France working with Stan Wilson at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), to put together a mission that has proved successful beyond original plans in giving a precision measurement of the shape of the ocean surface for tides, waves, and currents. The data are also being used for heat content and were a key element in helping us understand the 1997-1998 El Niño. TOPEX/Poseidon was my very first lesson in talking to Congress about a project—I knew I was successful when staffers said to me, "Baker, we don't need to talk to you. We've heard enough about TOPEX." The final cooperation was also a good lesson for all of us. Now we are embarked on the follow-on missions, and NOAA will play a role there.

Finally, undergirding all of this is the new scientific understanding of the ocean that has been achieved by scientists

Suggested Citation:"Argo to ARGO." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

supported by NSF, the Navy, NOAA, and NASA. I started my physics career supported by the Air Force, then my ocean career was supported by the Navy, then NSF, then I worked for NOAA in the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. This is where I learned the difference in approaches in funding—NSF being peer review and results-oriented, while the Navy is willing to take longer chances with instrumentation projects that would not have survived peer review. All of this support for the oceans community has led to phenomenal new understanding of physical, chemical, and biological processes in the sea. As Administrator of NOAA, and as the first administrator who worked as a scientist in the agency, I've had a special interest in the practical application of science and technology to better observations, and a unique view of all of these changes.

This past year has been declared the International Year of the Ocean. At the beginning, several of us met and asked how we could get more attention to oceans issues—more than just posters. We ended up doing a lot of things, including the National Ocean Conference where the President announced a special focus on ocean observations. He is the first President to do so. If we think back to President Kennedy and his 1962 announcement about GARP and geostationary satellites, we can see how important this is. Today, the geostationary satellites operated by NOAA are fundamental to our observing system. Hopefully, the initial commitment by President Clinton is a down payment on a fully operational ocean observing system. The first step will be full deployment of ARGO, together with satellite altimeter and scatterometer systems, and data assimilation and modeling. These contributions to GODAE and CLIVAR will provide the information we need to make available real practical applications of ocean understanding. In fact, I can note that the latest development in operational oceanography is wave forecasts for surfers—an application of the ideas of Walter Munk and his colleagues during World War II now being used today in a very different mode.

Physical oceanography is not the only side of this issue. I believe that changing ocean chemistry is as great or greater a human public concern than changing atmospheric chemistry leading to global warming. We're just starting to see this, as we experience the global impacts of non-point source pollution. A coastal global ocean observing system is one way to address this.

So from Argo to ARGO, I can see a progression of ocean science to operational oceanography. I wouldn't have missed it for anything, and I'm pleased to have interacted with so many colleagues at sea, in the academic community, in endless but productive meetings and conferences, and in achieving funding and results.

Congratulations to the National Science Foundation as it celebrates Fifty Years of Ocean Discovery.

Suggested Citation:"Argo to ARGO." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.
Page 212
Suggested Citation:"Argo to ARGO." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.
Page 213
Next: The Importance of Ocean Sciences to Society »
50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000 Get This Book
Buy Hardback | $47.00 Buy Ebook | $37.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

This book describes the development of ocean sciences over the past 50 years, highlighting the contributions of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the field's progress. Many of the individuals who participated in the exciting discoveries in biological oceanography, chemical oceanography, physical oceanography, and marine geology and geophysics describe in the book how the discoveries were made possible by combinations of insightful individuals, new technology, and in some cases, serendipity.

In addition to describing the advance of ocean science, the book examines the institutional structures and technology that made the advances possible and presents visions of the field's future. This book is the first-ever documentation of the history of NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, how the structure of the division evolved to its present form, and the individuals who have been responsible for ocean sciences at NSF as "rotators" and career staff over the past 50 years.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook,'s online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!