An Orchestra of Instruments: Discovering the Sea at Scripps

Photo by Colin E. Babb

By Colin E. Babb

THE SCRIPPS INSTITUTION OF OCEANOGRAPHY HAS BEEN AT THE VANGUARD OF OCEAN SCIENCE FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY. ITS PARTNERSHIPS WITH THE NAVY HELPED TO PUT IT THERE.

You can’t escape the ocean. That’s the impression a visitor gets when arriving at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), which is perched on a sloping bluff above the Pacific in La Jolla, California. You can see the water from nearly every building on the more than century-old research establishment, a place so important that an entire university campus was built to service it. (An exaggeration, perhaps, but it is undeniable that Scripps came first, and the adjoining University of California San Diego came second.) Professors and students alike find ways to fit surfing into their daily schedules. Sometime after the institution was founded, it was discovered that just off the coast was a submarine canyon, a convenient location for testing the long succession of sensors, instruments, and vehicles developed by Scripps. It is, in other words, a perfect location from which to study the sea.

Scripps existed for four decades on the edge of the California coast—both literally and figuratively—through its share of hard times and the Depression, before coming into its own during and after World War II. The partnership it formed with the Navy to help fight that war has endured in the years since because of SIO’s special relationship with the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Their story, together, is very much the story of ocean science.

“Scripps has been at the center, along with Woods Hole, at building our understanding—both theoretical and experimental, and then more recently computational—of how the ocean works in just about every realm,” said Tom Drake, director of ONR’s ocean battlespace and expeditionary access department.

A Home by the Sea

Established in 1903 originally as the Marine Biological Association of San Diego (in the boathouse of the Hotel del Coronado) with funds from a variety of donors, the most notable of whom was newspaper magnet E.W. Scripps, the institution moved to its present location in 1907 and became a part of the University of California in 1912. The brainchild of Berkeley professor William Ritter and San Diego doctor Fred Baker, Scripps was the first American institution dedicated to exploring and understanding the Pacific Ocean. Its purview, however, would soon encompass all the world’s oceans.

In the 1930s, Scripps developed the nation’s first comprehensive curriculum in oceanography, culminating in the creation of the textbook The Oceans, by Scripps professors Harald Sverdrup, Martin Johnston, and Richard Fleming in 1942, which would be the fundamental work on the subject in English for more than a generation. As a focal point for such expertise, Scripps inevitably became an important center for (mostly physics and acoustics) research during World War II, hosting the University of California Division of War Research (UCDWR), which partnered closely with the Navy’s nearby Radio and Sound Laboratory (a distant predecessor of today’s Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific).

The postwar relationship between Scripps and the Navy was cemented on 1 July 1946, with the signing of the first contract between the oceanographic institution and the Office of Research and Inventions—only a month away from being renamed the Office of Naval Research. The contract, for $120,000, was typical of the first few decades of ONR’s relationship with Scripps and other oceanographic institutions after the war—a block grant, broadly worded, that allowed civilian scientists wide latitude on how to spend the money:

Conduct surveys and research, analyse [sic] and compile data and technical information, prepare material for charts, manuals, and reports, and foster the training of military and civilian personnel in the following fields of oceanography: permanent currents; interaction of the sea and atmosphere (including wind waves, swell and surf); the distribution of physical properties; the distribution of chemical properties; the distribution of organisms; the characteristics of the sea bottom and beaches; tides, tidal currents and destructive sea waves; the physics and distribution of sea and terrigenous [near-shore] ice. Such a program shall include both geographical investigations (surveys), experiments in the laboratory and at sea, pertinent theoretical studies and necessary travel.

Just a couple of months before, the Navy’s Bureau of Ships (the predecessor of today’s Naval Sea Systems Command) helped establish Scripps’ new Marine Physical Laboratory (MPL), which was intended to continue, in peacetime, the Navy-relevant work Scripps had participated in with the UCDWR. According to MPL’s own history of its early years, the support for the laboratory was equally if not even more open-ended than what was described in Scripps’ first contract with ONR. Roger Revelle, a SIO researcher and Navy reservist who was a program manager at ONR for several years before returning to Scripps in 1948, wrote a letter for the chief of the Bureau of Ships to send to the president of the University of California, saying that if the university established the new laboratory, “the Bureau of Ships would give it tenure—which meant that we would support it indefinitely, without limit of time, as long as the Navy existed as a Navy and was concerned with submarines.” After some months convincing both parties involved with the letter of its efficacy, MPL was finally founded with the Navy’s support.

This multipronged support from the Navy for Scripps in the aftermath of World War II created a permanent conduit for the exchange of ideas, personnel, expertise, funding, and science that led to what many have called the “golden age of oceanography.” Beginning with the Navy’s loan of the tug R/V Horizon in 1948, most of Scripps’ fleet of vessels has been either ex-naval or purpose-built ships from the Navy. Major at-sea experiments such as the Mid-Pacific Expedition in 1950 and the Capricorn Expedition, which explored various atolls in the Pacific, in 1952-53 set the standard for the kind of big, multimonth, data-gathering scientific endeavors of the time. From work on internal waves, ocean circulation and mixing, and oceanic geology to acoustics and the propagation of sound underwater, ONR’s support for Scripps for more than a generation concentrated on understanding the major ocean processes. More recently, the Navy’s support has shifted toward the development of more sophisticated instrumentation and data collection.

Until his passing in February 2019 at the age of 101, Scripps researcher Walter Munk was nearly the personal embodiment of the symbiotic relationship between Scripps and ONR. Joining Scripps in 1939 and studying under Harald Sverdrup, Munk became world famous for his achievements in the understanding of ocean waves, the use of sound to study ocean temperature, and a host of other fields; he also had the distinction of being the longest continuously supported ONR performer.

Partners in the Sea

Over the past 60 years, the community of federal science supporting agencies has grown considerably. Consequently, ONR accounts for less of Scripps’ budget than it once did, but the Navy remains the largest single federal source of funding for SIO’s research. As of 2017 (the most recent year for which figures are available), the Navy’s contribution to Scripps’ portfolio was about $45 million, out of a total yearly budget of sponsored research of about $138 million. What those dollars buy is vitally important to what Scripps does. The division of federal research labor in the 21st century is such that, while most large-scale, data-collecting research projects and expeditions often are supported by organizations such as the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the instruments, sensors, and vehicles used on these expeditions—i.e., the scientific infrastructure used to collect data—exist in large part through the efforts of ONR.

ONR’s reliance on Scripps as a partner is equally as vital. According to Tom Drake, whose department at ONR is the Navy’s main conduit for support of basic research in the ocean sciences, Scripps and the University of California San Diego are the number-two recipient of his department’s basic research dollars over the past decade, right behind the Naval Research Laboratory.

“Especially now, as we are reinvigorating our look at ocean sciences under Task Force Ocean, the [chief of naval operations] rightly said the oceans, especially the undersea, are the most important thing that the United States still dominates, and we need to keep it that way,” said Drake. “Scripps is a central component of Task Force Ocean. They will in fact have the single largest Task Force Ocean investment, at least at this first stage; Woods Hole will also have substantial investment. So the ability for the Navy to come to Scripps and to talk at the highest levels has always been important for the Navy’s progress in ocean science.”

Established in 2017 in response to a perceived need to reinvigorate the study and practice of the ocean sciences in the United States, Task Force Ocean (TFO) is working to improve partnerships between the Navy (led by the oceanographer of the Navy and ONR), academia, and the private sector. Part of TFO is of course about the monetary support of ocean science. In July 2019, ONR announced its intent to award funding for 38 research projects (including six with Scripps) proposed in response to the latest Task Force Ocean Special Notice. This funding will support 18 academic institutions, four university-affiliated research centers and federally funded research and development centers, four Navy laboratories, and three private businesses, and it will include support for 34 graduate students and 19 postdocs. These projects were selected from the more than 250 proposals received.

Another part of TFO is about helping the current generation of ocean scientists and engineers to know the Navy a little better; even at Scripps, the intimate connections between scientists and the Navy are not what they once were in the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s in the midst of the Cold War.

“I think that’s the fundamental goal of TFO: it’s not to force [scientists to do] the classified research, but it’s to force the relevant research to the Navy,” said Bill Kuperman, the director of MPL. “The problem with doing that is that the scientists in the community, particularly the new generation of scientists, don’t know what the Navy’s problems are. So one of the things TFO is doing I believe is inviting academics to go on Navy cruises and stuff like that, to see what’s going on.”

Monitoring the Sea

The most visible and tangible product of the longstanding relationship between Scripps and the Navy is the array of sensors and unmanned vehicles both produced and used at the institution—and funded largely through the basic research efforts of ONR—that do the real grunt work of modern oceanography.

“I think this lab simply would not exist without ONR support,” said Dan Rudnick, professor of climate, atmospheric science and physical oceanography. “We would not be here at all. If there’s a message from me about the importance of ONR to the ocean sciences, it is that ONR has probably been the most important supporter of ocean instrumentation, and continues to be.”

Among the examples of transformational instrumentation is the profiling float, a free-drifting instrument that repeatedly measures profiles of temperature and salinity from the sea surface to the deep ocean. Profiling floats were developed at Scripps and Woods Hole in the early 1990s, with support from ONR. Several generations of Scripps profiling floats (beginning with ALACE and later SOLO) have led to today’s SOLO-II, which is now one of the most common types of floats used for the global Argo network. Other notable instrument developments include sea gliders, such as the Spray Glider (the model most associated with Scripps).

In the past few decades, there has been a strong shift from the development of the vehicles and instruments themselves toward new and innovative ways of using them as well as integrating them together into networks. One of these is a project Rudnick is working on called CALYPSO (Coherent Lagrangian Pathways from the Surface Ocean to Interior), a collaborative project led by Woods Hole and involving scientists from more than a dozen other institutions. During their most recent experiment in the spring off the coast of Spain, their experiments included using six gliders to look at the unique “front” where the waters of the Atlantic meet those of the Mediterranean.

Instead of a normal mission, which is to do continual profiles where the gliders descend and then come to the surface regularly, the gliders were sent to a specific region and remained there, said Rudnick. The gliders flew down to a specific depth autonomously, found where they needed to be, and then surveyed the layer based on measurements of temperature and salinity. Instead of profiles of hours, they programmed them to stay down for one to three days at a time, increasing the amount of data recovered but also placing a premium on the gliders’ navigation systems. One idea that Rudnick would like to try (but which hasn’t been funded yet), is linking gliders and floats to each other in a chain where some are coming to the surface and others are staying below for long periods, all of them linked by acoustic communications.

“The proposal we put in is essentially the notion that we could put together a network of devices all tracking each other,” said Rudnick. “Scientifically it would be of great value because then we’d have new ways of measuring the flow.”

This progressive transformation toward sophisticated networking of vehicles and platforms is nowhere more evident than in the development of Argo, the first worldwide, persistent oceanographic monitoring system. Though the term Argo is sometimes used to refer to the individual platforms, Argo really is the entire system of floats operating around the world, constantly sending data on the oceans’ salinity, temperature, and density. There are currently (August 2019) more than 3,600 floats in the system located in nearly every part of the world ocean.

Argo began as an outgrowth from the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE), a component of the World Climate Research Program, in the 1990s. A milestone in the history of the understanding of climate change, the experiment used the earliest versions of satellite-connected profile floats on a global scale for the first time.

“I think WOCE clearly demonstrated the practical nature of getting global-scale profile data from floats,” said Dean Roemmich, one of the founding scientists of Argo, “it must have occurred to many of us—not just a few of us—that this was a great instrument that could be the basis of a truly global ocean observing system.”

In the late 1990s, Roemmich gathered international collaborators for a permanent global ocean monitoring system, and the initial support for the idea came from ONR and the National Oceanographic Partnership Program.

Maintaining these networks, whether large ones such as Argo or small ones such as more traditional single-season experiments, takes constant vigilance and resources. To sustain Argo’s global coverage, for example, necessitates the replacement of about 700 floats a year by an international consortium of more than 25 national Argo programs, similar to the deployment levels needed to grow the system originally. Within the United States, this includes five institutional partners working together to sustain the US Argo contribution. Modern Argo floats last longer than five years, typically making hundreds of dives to 2000-meter depth and back to the sea surface every 10 days, until battery capacity is exhausted.

Gliders, which spend more time near the surface, sometimes have “interesting” encounters. “Every once and a while we have one or two picked up, unfortunately,” said Rudnick. “One person just kept it, and of course we know where it’s going” because of its internal GPS unit. “It was off Point Conception—it was a commercial fisherman. He picked it up, and we always wonder why, so we asked ‘why did you pick it up?’” All gliders and floats are marked with instructions and a phone number to call should something like this happen. “He didn’t even call the number for a day. He finally called, and his response to ‘why did you pick it up’ was he thought it was military, so he figured he’d pick it up. So you thought this was a bomb—why would it be military, and then you pick it up?”

Eric Terrill, director of the coastal observing research and development center, develops new sensors, vehicles, and modeling systems that have participated in a range of projects around the Pacific, from Palau east of the Philippines to Papua New Guinea to the Aleutian Islands. He and his teams have found sunken World War II aircraft in New Guinea, such as the B-25 bomber “Heaven Can Wait” discovered in October 2017 through Project Recover, a collaborative effort with the University of Delaware that looks for the underwater remains of missing U.S. service personnel. Another effort of the same project in 2018 resulted in the discovery of the wreck of the lost destroyer USS Abner Read (DD 526), near the Aleutian Island of Kiska.

Although the development of new vehicles and sensors often gets the most attention, researchers at Scripps also spend time trying to find new ways to stick sensors on older modes of transportation. In the never-ending quest to gather data by any means, nearly anything that spends time in the water will do. Phil Bresnahan, director of the new Scripps MakerSpace and research engineer for the Smartfin project (a collaboration with Scripps, the Surfrider Foundation, and the nonprofit Lost Bird Project), is exploring ways to stick temperature and motion sensors on surfboards.

“If there are people going out there anyway, might as well strap a sensor to them—in one way or another,” said Bresnahan.

The idea of putting sensors on surfboards makes a great deal of sense, when you realize coastal monitoring is especially expensive: you need lots of sensors, you need them well situated, and the deployment strategy can be challenging because of the dynamics of the surf zone.

“So if we have great sensors on the Scripps pier and then great sensors on Newport [Beach] pier, there’s 100 miles in between of not-really-well-observed coastal ocean,” said Bresnahan. “And this is in a very studied area.”

The sensors fit into a standard fin that can be screwed into both long and short boards; they can fit into about 60 percent of the boards currently available. The sensors automatically download their data through common cell networks the moment the boards return to the beach. The data is useful for a wide range of applications, from studying coral reefs to looking at how fish and marine mammals move. Bresnahan hopes to get Smartfins into the hands of as many people as possible.

“Even if it’s one out of 50 people, I think that would be a huge success,” he said. “On a good day out here, there are 500 people out at the same time. If we could have 10 Smartfins in the water throughout the day at a place like this—and then in more remote locations if we could even have one out in a day—that would be fantastic.”

Traversing the Sea

Although Scripps’ academic buildings are in La Jolla, the institution’s seagoing ships—and the infrastructure that gives Scripps a global reach—are located closer to downtown San Diego at the Nimitz Marine Facility at Point Loma. Scripps has never had a manned submersible program, so all of its fleet consists of ocean-going vessels. These include the global-class R/V Roger Revelle and ocean-class R/V Sally Ride, the general purpose and coastal vessels R/V Robert Gordon Sproul and R/V Bob and Betty Beyster, as well as FLIP, the Floating Instrument Platform (see below). For most of the year, however, it is rare to see all or even most of these vessels tied up at the pier. That absence is entirely by design.

“I was here for seven years before I saw Roger Revelle in San Diego,” said Bruce Appelgate, who is the director of ship operations and has been at Scripps since 2007. “We operated seven and a half years away from our homeport.”

The goal with all the vessels is to maximize the amount of time that each one is out at sea doing meaningful science and collecting data. This means that much of the maintenance and logistics involved in taking care of the ships and moving personnel on and off them goes on in ports all around the world. Getting time on one of these ships does not come cheaply to the institutions that use them. Roger Revelle, for instance, costs about $35,000 a day—which is just for the ship itself, and doesn’t include whatever science is being done on board.

Making it all work involves a highly coordinated, highly efficient system that spreads those costs among many organizations that are a part of UNOLS (University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System) and the various science funding agencies. Also central to this system’s success is a kind of elaborate maritime ballet that brings people and equipment out to remote locations, allowing ships to stay at sea for enormously long periods.

Appelgate used an example of a typical voyage to illustrate all this. “You leave port with one group of scientists, you get off in Honolulu, but there’s another group of scientists standing on the pier,” he said. “Then, as quick as you can you get the first group off—maybe they’ve got a day, then you’ve got two or three days to completely remobilize the vessel—maybe geologists got off and chemists are getting on. [Crewmembers then] strip the ship down after one day—it’s just a flatbed truck—and then they build it back up with whatever they’re doing with their mass spectrometers and clean rooms. And then off you go, and maybe you’re going to Pago Pago, and then they get off and there’s another group of scientists tapping their foot ready to get on.”

All of this results in a tempo of operations that is actually far busier than that of naval vessels. “We try to minimize the amount of time we spend in port, maximize the time we’re at sea doing science, and for a big ship like [Roger Revelle or Sally Ride] for us we want to have 300 operational days a year,” said Appelgate. “Compare that with a gray ship—what’s the tempo for a warship? Half of that?”

The comparison to the military is more apt than might be apparent (beyond the fact that the largest of Scripps’ vessels are owned by the Office of Naval Research on behalf of the Navy). Much as the expertise to build and maintain modern naval systems, ships, and aircraft is so highly specialized that budgets and orders for them must be essentially continuous—or the knowledge that makes them possible will literally go elsewhere—the human capital that goes into maintaining the nation’s maritime science infrastructure is just as fragile. Although there is a pipeline for new ocean scientists to enter the field each year, there are always opportunities elsewhere to draw them out of academia. The community of engineers and support personnel who maintain the ships, equipment, and shore facilities is in some ways even more vulnerable, since they are not nearly as numerous and the lucrativeness of the commercial sector can be enticing. What they do, however, is vital.

“Every single one of our systems, whether it’s a multibeam sonar, an [acoustic Doppler current profiler], the remote stuff that we operate, or acoustic navigation systems, everything has to be maintained and calibrated,” said Appelgate. “If it’s not calibrated, the data are meaningless. Our mantra here is we want to be honest brokers of unassailable data. This is one of our biggest challenges—because each one of these things is almost a full-time job for somebody just to make sure they’re calibrated, up to spec, and operating okay. So we’ve got marine technicians that devote their careers to making sure those things work. That’s one of the interesting things about this kind of a marine operation, is that the science focus requires us to do things on ships that no other sector of the industry would ever have to worry about.”

Appelgate would love to be a part of the next generation of research vessels, which he hopes will be powered by renewable energy. This is of real concern in California, where up to 50 percent of the particulate matter in the atmosphere over the Los Angeles basin, for instance, is caused by marine shipping—not automobiles. “A couple of years ago, I worked with some friends at Sandia National Labs, who were working on the idea of zero-emission vessels,” he said. They pitched an idea to the Department of Transportation to support a feasibility study on building a zero-fossil fuel coastal vessel powered entirely by liquid hydrogen. The way it would work is that wind or solar farms on land would break down water into hydrogen and oxygen through hydrolysis, the hydrogen would be liquefied, and then it would be transported to the ship using liquid hydrogen-power trucks—making the entire pipeline carbon-neutral.

“Smaller than Sally Ride but bigger than Sproul, it’s designed as a trimaran hull vessel,” Appelgate said, “making it especially stable and providing large amounts of space in the hull for laboratories and equipment. The lack of any kind of combustion engines for propulsion or generators means it’s especially quiet.” Beyond the environmental issues, this would be particularly beneficial for research involving anything having to do with acoustics and a range of other areas as well.

Innovations with designs such as these will help keep ships relevant and central to ocean research well into the future, which Appelgate sees as a continuing partnership between manned and unmanned platforms. “In addition to all these widgets and instruments, this is one of the most important instruments,” he said, pointing to a depiction of the Roger Revelle on his laptop screen, “that ONR supports and has historically supported. This isn’t just a ship; this is a giant traveling orchestra of instruments. You never know what you’re going to need. You might develop a sonar or a robot or something for a very specific need, but maintaining a broad capability across basic observing systems is something that we need to have all the time because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Understanding the Sea

What the ships, vehicles, and sensors at Scripps’ disposal allow it to do is the kind of science that places it at the nexus of academic, government, military, and societal concerns. That intersectionality means that the persistent, networked monitoring at the center of today’s ocean science simultaneously is relevant to a Navy looking for ways to create maritime systems to detect surface ships and submarines, as well as to a scientific community exploring the effects of global climate change.

Associate professor Jennifer MacKinnon, a member of the Multiscale Ocean Dynamics group at Scripps, exemplifies this convergence with her work on the Arctic. One of the projects she works on is SODA (Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic), which is looking at physical processes in the waters at the top of the world.

“The Arctic is a bit of a funny ocean,” MacKinnon said. It is unusual because the surface water is cool but fresh and relatively unsalty (a result of ice melt and river runoff). The bottom is cold and salty like a normal ocean, but there are layers in the middle that are saltier than the surface but warmer. This produces a peculiar situation where temperature can go up as you go deeper. Because of the Arctic Ocean’s geography, the warmer and saltier water comes in through a limited number of points, such as the Bering Strait.

“There’s a couple of reasons why we care about it,” she said. “One is a climate change reason, that it’s this reservoir of lurking heat. It’s been there for a while, but as the ice melts and more wind is felt on the surface, the upper ocean can become more turbulent and is increasingly mixing up that heat. So there’s this lurking pool of disaster of heat there.” As the ice melts, you can mix up more of that lurking heat, which can accelerate the rate of ice melt, leading to a positive feedback loop.

“People think this is one of the reasons that forecast models they run for understanding the rate of sea ice decline . . . under predict the rate at which the sea ice is actually melting—it’s actually melting faster,” MacKinnon said. The other reason this dynamic is particularly interesting is that these different layers of temperature and salinity have unique acoustic qualities. Sound can travel within the layers, but often have trouble traveling between them. The presence of more layers of warmer water than before complicates this, and means that the Arctic the Navy is used to working with historically is changing very quickly.

“There’s something about the physics of how this water subducts or dives under the cool water that it does so in discrete little ‘blobs,’” which MacKinnon admitted is not a technical term, but is nonetheless eminently evocative. “And they get spat out and they start to swirl around the whole gyre.” She hopes to figure out just what is happening with this process and why it occurs, not just for the science alone, but for other practical concerns as well. “I’ve been told by people who work more with the operational Navy that they often conceive of this like a continuous sound channel—and maybe it used to be, but it’s really not now. So the acoustics implications of how you communicate through a continuous duct versus little blobs, that has quite a different effect—it scatters, it jumps, you would not use it in the same way at all.”

Professor Lynne Talley likewise has her feet in two realms, as co-chair for the US portion of GO-SHIP (Global Ocean Ship-Based Hydrographic Investigations Program), a major international effort that creates detailed ship-based measurements of the sea, and SOCCOM (Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling), a float-based program off Antarctica using biogeochemical Argo floats. GO-SHIP is essentially the gold standard of ocean data collection, where, once a decade, vessels will take the most detailed measurements possible using a wide array of instruments while sailing along preset north-south or east-west swaths of ocean. Since its establishment in 2003, the program has completed two complete cross-sections for most of these predetermined swaths that include the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans as well as the Arctic and Antarctica. The voyages not only provide a baseline for changes in the ocean over time, but also act as calibration for all global ocean science more broadly.

“What we do is so traditional, it’s what people have done forever,” said Talley. “People always say, isn’t it time to reevaluate that, why are you still doing that? Why are you still going on ships and making profiles?”

What these ship-based measurements do is provide the high-quality background salinity measurements that have been the only way—so far—to measure changes in the deep ocean, anything below 2,000 meters. GO-SHIP’s collection of temperature and carbon data is also vital, since 93 percent of the heat absorbed from global warming ends up in the ocean.

Talley’s other big project, SOCCOM, also concentrates on understanding the ocean’s carbon budget—how it goes in, where it ends up, and where it goes back out again—by concentrating on the all-important Southern Ocean. It also is the first large program involving biogeochemical sensors, which Talley hopes will be a pilot program for a global system of enhanced Argo floats that measure things such as oxygen, carbon, nitrates, and pH.

The waters surrounding the Antarctic—largely unencumbered by land masses—act like a massive heat exchanger for the world’s oceans, driving much of the circulation of the oceans between the equator and the poles. Prior to SOCCOM, whose floats now are capable of collecting winter data and transmitting it during the spring thaw, no one had measured the carbon budget for this region through the entire annual cycle. Theoretically, the absorption of carbon into the ocean should equal the release of carbon back into the atmosphere.

“We have all the winter data now,” said Talley, “and we can see it out-gases way more than one would have wanted it to for the budgets that we’ve carefully constructed over the years.” Her group is now in search of where this larger uptake of carbon is originating.

Conclusion

Joined by a mutual interest in the sea, Scripps and the Navy’s destinies have been entwined for much of the past century. They have shared in many of the momentous discoveries of ocean science in that time—they have shared what historian Gary Weir called, “an ocean in common.” They represent what, in a sense, all modern science has become: collaborative, cooperative, tolerant of multiple ends, and dependent on multiple means. With new questions to be asked and so much still to explore, engaging with the sea will continue to require “an orchestra of instruments.”

About the author: Colin Babb is a support contractor serving as the historian for the Office of Naval Research and the managing editor of Future Force.

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