Navigation lattice generated by Shoran transmitting stations in the western Aleutian
Islands in 1945. This was the first experimental use of a purely electronic
navigation system by the Coast and Geodetic Survey and was an outgrowth of
World War II aerial navigation developments. (NOAA Photo Library). Click image
for larger view.
NOAA Ocean Exploration
In these pages, we trace NOAA's history of ocean exploration and that
of its forerunners to the present day. Through the 19th Century, NOAA's
ancestor agencies, in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, were the principal
ocean explorers for the United States government. Today, NOAA's exploration
activities have been richly complemented by explorers and scientists
from the academic community, other federal agencies, state governments,
and the private sector.
Although our focus is NOAA and its predecessors, we have included other
major discoveries and innovations, such as the famous British Challenger
expedition, for historical context. This version of NOAA's exploration history
covers the period through
1970, the year that NOAA was formed under the United States Department
of Commerce. Under NOAA, exploration of our oceans has continued through
the years and will continue into the future.
NOAA’s Overarching Exploration Themes
During these two centuries, NOAA’s scientific ocean exploration has
developed around the following themes: (1) systematic mapping of the sea
floor and related geologic and geophysical parameters; (2) the search for
creatures that live within the sea and the study of their interrelationships;
(3) the systematic study of local and planetary tides and currents; (4)
the struggle for humankind to work, observe, and live within the sea; (5)
the search for understanding of the dynamic interactions between the ocean
and the atmosphere that drive the great climatic systems; (6) the study
of the chemical composition of the sea; and (7) penetration of the sea floor
by mechanical and acoustical means in order to comprehend the geology, geophysics,
geochemistry, and past history of our planet. An eighth theme, the search
for sea-floor cultural artifacts and heritage sites, has matured as sea-floor
mapping, remote sensing systems, and various other technologies have become
The Early Years (1807-1865)
the first efforts of our young nation to survey the coast. Guided
by the visionary Alexander Dallas Bache, this period resulted in
the first map of the Gulf Stream, the first discovery of the continental
shelf break, and the collection of living organisms at depths previously
thought to be beyond the limits of life.
The Breakthrough Years (1866-1922)
discusses the enormous body of new information
and knowledge gathered during this period. Two U.S. research vessels,
and the Albatross
, were the major platforms.
On the Blake,
under the command of Lieutenant Charles D.
Sigsbee, true innovations in the techniques of depth measurements
led to the first modern maps of the sea floor. The Albatross
this work, but its claim to the annals of history derives from its
biological investigations, as during its service researchers discovered
tens of thousands of new species.
The Age of Electronics (1923
ushers in the modern era. The first installment,
presented here through 1945, discusses the advent of acoustic technology
and the sweeping changes it produced on marine science and oceanographic research.
Age of Electronics (1946-1970)
new technologies that further increased man's understanding
of the ocean realm. Breakthrough tools such as Deep Tow
instruments and multibeam sounding characterized and mapped
the ocean floor, while manned submersibles allowed scientists
to dive into deep waters. A move toward international cooperation
in ocean science spurred the focus of the interactions
between the ocean and atmosphere. Recognizing the need
to predict changes in the Earth's environment, as well
as conserving and wisely managing the nation's coastal
and marine resources, the National Oceanic Atmospheric
Administration was founded in October 1970.
in synoptic form, the key dates and associated events described in the historical essays.
NOAA's Collection of Rare 19th Century Oceanography Books
acknowledge this contribution by Captain Albert Theberge, NOAA
Corps (ret.), of the NOAA Central Library.