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Historical C&GS

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The British Challenger Expedition is often heralded as the beginnings of modern oceanography. That expedition was a defining moment in the science of oceanography; but the United States had a thriving oceanographic heritage extending back to the Eighteenth Century observations of the Gulf Stream by American whaling captains and the subsequent mapping of that great river of the sea by Benjamin Franklin.

Gulf Stream studies were continued in the Nineteenth Century by Alexander Dallas Bache, Franklin's grandson. Bache, the second Superintendent of the Coast Survey, developed the framework for the modern oceanographic cruise when he wrote the following instructions for Gulf Stream studies in 1845:

"First. What are the limits of the Gulf Stream on this part of the coast of the United States, at the surface and below the surface?

"Second. Are they constant or variable, do they change with the season, with the prevalent and different winds; what is the effect of greater or less quantities of ice in the vicinity?

"Third. How may they best be recognized, by the temperature at the surface or below the surface, by soundings, by the character of the bottom, by peculiar forms of vegetable or animal life, by meteorology, by the saltness of the water?

"Fourth. What are the directions and velocities of the currents in this Stream and adjacent to it at the surface, below the surface, and to what variations are they subject?"

As an adjunct to the first set of questions, he issued an additional set of instructions:

"(1) determine the temperature at the surface and at different depths; (2) the depth of water; (3) the character of the bottom; (4) the direction and velocity of the currents at the surface and at different depths; (5) as far as practicable notice the forms of vegetable and animal life."

Taken as a whole, Bache's instructions encompass physical, chemical, geological, and biological oceanography. He also touched on the interaction of meteorology and oceanography. Since 1845, instruments have evolved and new theories have been developed. However, the underlying philosophy of observation and parameters to be observed remains the same for today's oceanographers as they were for Bache's captains 150 years ago.

In this album join the Coast and Geodetic oceanographers of yesteryear as they study the Gulf Stream, discover geological and geophysical phenomena, and develop new and better methods of studying the World ocean. Work with the BLAKE in the Gulf Stream: the first ship to use steel cable for deepsea dredging; the first ship to anchor in the deepsea; and the ship from which the first modern bathymetric surveys were conducted. Visit with the old OCEANOGRAPHER as it builds on radio acoustic ranging experience and hosts Maurice Ewing for his first offshore seismic reflection experiments; sail with the PIONEER as it conducts the great magnetic survey of the West Coast in the 1950's that discovered magnetic striping of the seafloor; work with Harris B. Stewart, the first chief oceanographer of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, as he works in the Atlantic and Pacific on the EXPLORER and on the PIONEER in the Indian Ocean; and work with scientists around the world with the new OCEANOGRAPHER as it circum-navigates the Earth. NOAA, through the Coast and Geodetic Survey as well as through its fisheries arm, has a rich oceanographic heritage. That heritage continues today as NOAA ships work throughout the World Ocean.


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Historical Coast & Geodetic Survey ~ Oceanography Albums

Early C&GS ship
Pre-1950


men releasing balloon
1950 to 1969

Men releasing buoy
1970 to
the Present




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Last Updated:
October 1, 2009