Scripps Institution of Oceanography's 100th Anniversary

    William E. Ritter, a professor of zoology at the University of California at Berkeley, had yet to secure a permanent facility to conduct his summer research projects after almost a decade of looking, but accepted the invitation of San Diego physician Fred Baker on the condition that he would receive funding locally to support the program.

    Courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

    So when three community leaders pledged $4,500 apiece at a Chamber of Commerce meeting on Sept. 26, 1903, the Marine Biological Association was born. Neither Ritter nor the original benefactors of the MBA, who renamed it the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1912, could have predicted the significance their grants would have on San Diego and the scientific world.

    Last month, SIO launched a year-long celebration of its 100th year of existence and has during its 100 years grown from a series of rudimentary experiments in the boathouse of the Hotel del Coronado to what SIO Centennial Director Kevin Hardy calls “”the Mecca of the oceanography world.””

    Special events are scheduled for SIO’s centennial, where the storied history of the institution will be commemorated with a lecture series touching on the accomplishments SIO has made in the last century.

    Courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

    The beginnings

    Ritter had originally pursued San Pedro, Calif., as the site for his summer facility, but was unable to obtain permission to stage his research in the region because of the City of Los Angeles’ plans to build a harbor in the area, eliminating any chance of conducting studies of natural marine behavior.

    The professor then turned to Baker, whom he had met while honeymooning in San Diego over a decade earlier. Baker was aware of Ritter’s desire to start a summer research program on the Southern California coast and had written him several times urging him to relocate his work to San Diego. With San Pedro out of the picture, Ritter moved his project to the boathouse at the Hotel del Coronado, thanks to funding by E.W. Scripps, Ellen Browning Scripps and Homer Peters.

    Upon receiving its first grant, the MBA was comprised of a handful of scientists who operated out of the boathouse. The association owned one vessel, the Albatross, which it used for deep-water investigation.

    Ritter continued to travel between San Diego and Berkeley, Calif., until 1909, when it became apparent that the MBA would have the monetary resources and inspirational-backing of the Scripps family at its disposal. The MBA had purchased a 170-acre tract of oceanfront property in La Jolla for its future site. The land, valued from $30,000 to $50,000, was purchased by the MBA for only $992 because other land speculators agreed not to bid on it.

    Construction of the new site began immediately with the help of very liberal donations from Ellen Browning Scripps. By 1916, construction of the director’s manor, 12 cottages for researchers, a library, an aquarium and a salt-water pumping machine was completed on the new La Jolla campus.

    Scripps and the war effort

    SIO researchers played a vital role during the First and Second World Wars. During World War I, the U.S. Navy hired out SIO scientists to teach sailors how to increase their fish catch using scientific methods to better feed the servicemen who faced irregular rations while at sea. Other scientists instructed military developers how to extract nitrates (essential for synthesizing munitions and fertilizers) from sea kelp.

    In World War II, SIO Director Herald Sverdrup was hired by the U.S. Navy to teach military personnel how to make tide predictions. Sverdrup’s students went on to make predictions that were vital to scheduling American landings on Normandy, northern Africa and the Pacific Islands.

    Roger Revelle left his post at SIO in 1941 to work for the UC Department of War Research, where he devastated the German Navy by developing a submarine detection device that overmatched U-Boat fleets. The United States’ domination of the seas during World War I, remarked Admiral Karl Doenitz of Germany, was largely because “”the enemy has rendered the U-boat war ineffective … through his superiority in the field of science.””

    The Bible of oceanography

    Oceanography would not be the multi-disciplinary scientific field it is today without the work of SIO researchers. More specifically, the field of oceanography was born out of the pages of “”The Oceans: Their Physics, Chemistry and General Biology,”” a textbook authored by Sverdrup and SIO professors Martin W. Johnson and Richard H. Fleming in 1942.

    “”The Oceans”” was the first text to cover the crossing over of sciences in regard to the marine world. The book was not released abroad until after the close of WWII because of the advantage it gave the U.S. Navy.

    Dozens of oceanography institutions were created after “”The Oceans”” was released. American oceanography facilities at University of Rhode Island, Oregon State University and the University of Hawaii all attribute “”The Oceans”” as their original instructional material, as do institutions in Argentina and India.

    Other accomplishments

    SIO has played host to some very important programs and accomplishments. In 1965, Sea Lab II was constructed 205 feet under water and approximately 3,000 feet off of the La Jolla coast where the Scripps Canyon begins. Sea Lab II housed researchers in the underwater laboratory for 45 days, where the first radio transmission was made between parties underwater and orbiting the earth in outer space.

    Aquanaut and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau also visited SIO in 1966, where he brought in the vessel CALYPSO to film the marine life and topography in the La Jolla and Scripps canyons. Cousteau’s visit had a inspiring effect on SIO researchers.

    “”I learned more in one day [with Cousteau] than I have in the last 15 years,”” said marine geologist Fran Shepard.

    The celebration

    SIO is encouraging everyone in the UCSD and San Diego communities to participate in their year-long centennial celebration.

    “”The Centennial celebration is really a celebration of San Diegans,”” Hardy said. “”Without the hospitality of San Diegans, who knows where William Ritter would have set up his summer laboratory?””

    Several programs exclusive to this centennial year will be made available to the general public, such as an underwater film festival, a public lecture series, K-12 outreach programs and a centennial cruise, among other events. Hardy urges the public to attend as much of the celebration as possible.

    “”I’m hoping the centennial elevates the people of San Diego’s awareness of how important the relationship between Scripps and the community is to each other,”” he said. “”From a local view, I’m hoping the people of San Diego can see their significance in the institution’s formation.””

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