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History of Oceanography- a more complete look
I.Ancient Uses of the Oceans - People have used and interacted with the oceanic realm
for as long as we have had history and art.
II.Important Early Developments in the Scientific and Technological Understanding of the
Oceans and Navigation
A. 4000BC-500 AD: Polynesian colonization of the Pacific Islands using simple rafts
and wind-powered canoes
B. 3200BC onward: Egyptians developed oar-powered and wind-powered boats for navigation
of the Nile River, coastal eastern Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea.
C. 3200BC onward: Mesopotamians developed similar oar-powered and wind-powered
boats for navigation of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea.
D. The Minoans (2000-1300 BC) were perhaps the first true maritime civilization centered
at Crete (legend of Theseus, the minotaur, and the labyrinth).
E. The Phoenicians (1500-500 BC) made extensive voyages throughout the Mediterranean
Sea and easternmost Atlantic Ocean (especially western Africa). They and the Greeks were
the first to found maritime colonies as part of their expansion and for trade.
III.Age of European Discovery and Exploration
A. Early Greek Scientific Development
1. 384-322BC: Aristotle catalogued marine organisms.
2. 325BC: Pytheas sailed from Greece to Iceland and observed latitude using the North
Star; he also proposed that the tides were caused by the Moon.
3. 265-194BC: Eratosthanes calculated the circumference of the Earth. Aristarchus
independently calculated the diameter of the Earth from observations of the elevation of
the Sun at noon at two locations along a north-south line between Greece and Egypt.
B. Map Making - the need for accurate Earth description as a navigation tool.
1. 127-151AD: Ptolemy produced the first world atlas, including the Pacific and Indian
Oceans; he showed the world as a globe.
- 2. Polynesians
developed stick maps which showed dominant ocean currents relative to key islands.
C. Navigation Aids
1. Hellenistic Greece made use of coastal markers and light houses as navigational aids -
Pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
2. Developmentof the magnetic compass by the Chinese in the 1st millennium AD. The compass
was transmitted to Europe by the Arabs around 900 AD.
- 3. Latitude
determination by astronomical means was known to the Greeks. Longitude determination by
astronomic means required accurate time control; needed good clocks.
IV.The Modern Search for Scientific Knowledge of the Oceans
A. 1420: Prince Henry of Portugal founded the first school of navigation.
B. 1486,1498 - Bartholomew Dias and then Vasco de Gama sailed around Africa and into
the Indian Ocean.
C. 1490's: Columbus sailed the Atlantic and (re)discovered the Americas.
D. 1513: Ponce de Leon 'discovered' the Pacific Ocean.
E. Magellan (1520) and later Sir Francis Drake (1580) circumnavigate the Earth.
A. 1728-1761: John Harrison developed a sea-going chronometer which revolutionized the
ability to determine longitude. This led to markedly improved navigation and maps.
B. 1768-1779: Captain James Cook - on four voyages, he determined the outline of the
Pacific Ocean, measured winds, currents, and temperatures, conducted soundings,and
researched coral reefs. By proving the value of John Harrison's chronometer, he made
the first accurate maps of the Earth's surface possible. He discovered New Zealand,
Australia, Great Barrier Reef, Sandwich and Hawaiian Islands.
C. 1777: Benjamin Franklin published a map of the Gulf Stream based on ship reports.
D. 1806-1873: Matthew Fontaine Maury, the father of modern oceanography, was a career
officer in the USA Navy. He compiled analyses of wind and current logs, and published
maps of wind and current patterns. Wrote the first oceanography textbook in 1855, The
Physical Geography of the Sea.
E. 1831-1836: Voyage of HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin. His observations led
to The Origin of Species.
F. 1815-1854: Edward Forbes established the vertical distribution of life in the Oceans
and divided the sea into life-depth zones. He claimed that there cannot be life below
550 m depth
G. 1872-1876: The Challenger Expedition. Sponsored by the Royal Society and
Royal Navy, this was the first modern, deep-ocean, global sampling expedition and was
one of the most important voyages of the 19th century; it visited all of the world
oceans covering 127,000 km. Scientists on board studied the physical conditions of the
deep ocean, the chemical composition of seawater, physical and chemical characteristics
of seafloor deposits, and the distribution of organic life at all water depths. As part
of the cruise,scientists measured the water depth of the Marianas Trench (8185 m); netted
and classified 4717 new marine species.
H. 1893-1895: Fridtjof Nansen mapped the Arctic Ocean while trapped in sea ice aboard
I. 1925: The German Meteor Expedition mapped the ocean bottom by echo sounding.
J. 1960: The bathyscaphe Trieste descends to 10,915 m, the deepest depth in the
Some notable expeditions
Edmund Halley (1657-1742) A British astronomer, Halley (of comet fame) made
probably the first primarily scientific voyage - to study the variation of the magnetic
compass - sailing as far as 52 deg. S in the Atlantic Ocean in 1698-1700. On a previous
expedition to St. Helena, he made an important contribution to knowledge of the trade
winds. He realized more than anyone the value of Newton's Principia and arranged for it
to be printed at his own expense.
JamesCook (1728-1779) On his three great voyages between 1768 and 1780, Cook
carried naturalists in his ships and made careful observations of winds and currents.
During the second voyage the Forster brothers measured subsurface temperatures and
found a warm deep layer below the Antarctic surface water.
Francois Peron (1775-1810) A French naturalist and physicist, Peron accompanied a
French circumnavigation of the globe in 1800-1804. He was able to make only a few rather
uncertain deep temperature measurements, but was much impressed by the importance of
oceanic research and maintained that it had received too little attention.
Adam Johann von Krusenstern (a Baltic German who later changed his name into
the Russian Ivan F. Kruzenstein; 1770-1846) He commanded a Russian circumnavigation
in 1803-1806 and was accompanied by Dr. J.C. Horner and with him made a number of deep sea
temperature measurements in the tropical Pacific and the Sea of Okhotsk.
William Scoresby (1789-1857) An English whaler and scientist, Scoresby made many surface
and deep observations in the seas around Spitsbergen and off the coast of Greenland
between 1810 and 1822.
Fabian Gottlieb Benjamin von Bellingshausen (1778-1852) He circumnavigated the
Antarctic continent in 1819-1821, much of the voyage being south of 60 deg. S. He was
bitterly disappointed in having to sail without a naturalist. "In this way our hopes of
making discoveries in the field of natural history were dashed to the ground," he wrote.
Nevertheless, he made many valuable observations,and his artist Paul Mikhailov painted a
fine series of pictures of marine animals.
Otto von Kotzebue (1787-1846) This Baltic German made two circumnavigations in
1815-1818 and 1823-1826, primarily for scientific purposes. Many deep-sea temperature
observations were made, and Emil von Lenz, physicist on the second voyage, recognized
that a surface flow of water from low to high latitudes must be supplied by a flow from
the poles at great depths.
Jean S.C. Dumont d'Urville (1790-1842) A French admiral, he made three
circumnavigations in 1822-1825, 1826-1829, and 1837-1840. He made many deep-sea
temperature observations, but because of the effect of pressure on the thermometers he
concluded that in the open oceans the temperature of the water below about 500 fathoms
was uniform at nearly 4.4 deg. C. He wrongly concluded that somewhere between 40 deg. S
and 60 deg. S, oceanwater was at a uniform temperature of 4.4 deg. C from the surface to
Sir James Clark Ross (1800-1862) He made the first extensive series of deep-sea
soundings during his voyage to the Southern Seas in 1839-1843 in H.M.S. Erebus
and Terror. He made comprehensive studies ofthe Earth's magnetism, many deep-sea
temperature measurements and extensive biological collections. Dr. J.D. Hooker, who went
on the voyage as surgeon-naturalist, published his well-known Botany of the Antarctic,
voyage of the Erebusand Terror. Ross also studied the effect of variations
of atmospheric pressure on sea level. He had the same ideas as Dumont d'Urville about
temperature of the deep water. Dredgings were made at depths down to 400 fathoms but the
collections were subsequently neglected and lost to science.
Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) He commanded six ships taking part in the U.S. expedition
of 1838-1842. Although the scientific staff, under the direction of the famous naturalist
J.D. Dana, did not go south of Sydney, Australia, extensive natural history collections
were made. Scientifically the expeditionis best known for Dana's description of Crustacea.
What must have been an enormous collection of fishes was never properly reported on.
Robert Fitzroy (1805-1865) This British admiral commanded the Beagle during
her famous voyages of 1826-1836. Charles Darwin, who sailed in her from 1831-1836, added
much to our knowledge of natural history, especially on the structure and origin of coral
reefs and islands. Only two sets of temperature observations were made.
Matthew F. Maury (1806-1873) An officer in the United States Navy, he sailed around
the world and his sea experience taught him the critical need to increase the efficiency
of shipping through better navigation and safety at sea. He was successful in convincing
the world of the value of more systematic study and charting of winds and currents. He
also produced the first bathymetric chart of the North Atlantic Current.
Edward Forbes (1815-1854) He studied the fauna of the Aegean Sea and did much to
stimulate interest in marine biology, partly, perhaps, by promoting an active study of
depths greater than 300 fathoms (550 m), below which he believed that animal life ceased
William B. Carpenter (1813-1885)
Sir Charles Wyville Thomson (1830-1882)
Gwyn Jeffreys (1809-1885)
They made dredging expeditions in H.M.S. Lightning, Porcupine,and
Shearwater in the eastern North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. They found many
new species of animals and made enough temperature observations to show that there was
an active circulation of the water below the surface.They dredged at depths down to
H.M.S. Challenger (1872-1876) This research ship carried five scientists,
under the direction of Wyville Thomson, and made extensive biological, chemical,
geological and physical observations, mainly in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and
across the Indian Ocean south of 40 deg.S. The extensive biological collections, together
with soundings, bottom samples, and chemical and physical observations, presented the
first broad view of the character of the oceans.