Systematic ocean exploration in the United States began in 1807 when Thomas Jefferson authorized the Survey of the Coast, NOAA's earliest predecessor. Since then, NOAA and its ancestors have played a critical role in the evolution of ocean exploration in the United States and the world.

These pages offer a comprehensive look at NOAA's 200-year history of ocean exploration through a series of chronological essays. Also included is a rich selection of historical quotations, arranged thematically, that capture the many advances, challenges, and misunderstandings through the years as both early and modern explorers struggled to study the mysterious ocean realm.

History of 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.


“Quotes for Ocean Explorers” is a small collection of quotations that is meant to help: 1) track the history of the exploration of the sea; 2) capture the thought processes and emotions that have motivated ocean explorers; 3) express the ideas behind the invention and continuing improvement of ocean exploration instruments; and 4) relate the excitement and joy of discovery that have accompanied ocean explorers since the first time that humankind has peered into the depths or devised ways to observe and measure oceanic phenomena.

Historical Documents

The Readings for Ocean Explorers Collection is a digital library of complete documents and excerpts from letters, autobiographies, federal government reports, science articles, and reminiscences illustrating the history, science, and extraordinary personal stories of those involved in the exploration of the oceans.


The NOAA Central Library houses a special archive of more than 5,000 rare historical books. Many of these date to the 18th and 19th Centuries, and some are even earlier. This collection includes works from the archive that have special significance to the historical record of ocean exploration.