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Key Scientific Discoveries and Accomplishments


  • In 1936, Scripps developed the first curriculum in oceanography in the United States. Working from this curriculum, Scripps scientists Harald Sverdrup, Martin Johnson, and Richard Fleming wrote "The Oceans" (1942), the first comprehensive textbook of oceanography, which defined the emerging field of modern oceanography.

  • During World War II, Scripps oceanographers solved the problem of a crackling sound that interfered with submarine detection—the source was a crustacean known as the snapping shrimp, and the ensuing discoveries by Scripps scientists allowed the Navy not only to identify the interference, but to mimic the noise to conceal its own submarines in enemy harbors.

  • The pioneering science of swell height and surf prediction in the early 1940s by Scripps Professors Walter Munk and Harald Sverdrup allowed the United States Navy to accurately predict conditions for successful Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy, North Africa, and the Pacific.

  • Scripps, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the National Marine Fisheries Service formed the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) in 1949 in response to the collapse of the California sardine fishery. The CalCOFI time series is the longest (1951 to the present) and most complete (>50,000 stations) time series of oceanographic and ichthyoplankton data in the world.  Today its focus has shifted to the study of the California coastal marine environment and management of its living resources.

  • Scripps, with the oldest research diving program in the country, pioneered the use of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba) in research diving.  Scripps established the country’s first scientific diving standards and the first non-military scuba training program in 1951.

  • Scripps faculty Charles David Keeling measured concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii.  These observations have continued without interruption from 1958 through the present.  The Keeling Curve is one of the most recognizable images in modern science and is the foundation for the current science of climate change. 

  • In need of a stable platform for research related to a Navy submarine weapons program in the early 1960s, Scripps scientists developed Research Platform FLIP.  Engineered with a long, thin design that would minimize impacts from oceanic forces, FLIP was launched in 1962.  Owned by the Navy and managed by Scripps Ship Operations, FLIP continues to serve in projects supporting a variety of naval operations and general and national security research missions.

  • In 1961, Scripps scientists Arthur Raff and Ronald Mason published a now famous paper documenting magnetic anomalies in the pattern of stripes on the ocean floor off the coast of Washington state. Their data, combined with new data on the age of reversals of the earth’s magnetic field, formed the foundations of the theory of seafloor spreading—a cornerstone of the theory of plate tectonics.

  • In 1967, Scripps geophysicists George Backus and Freeman Gilbert developed Inverse Theory for geophysics.  The theory allows the development of Earth models that fit a given set of data, as well as determination of what features of a model are resolved by the data.  Scripps geophysicist Robert Parker subsequently extended the theory, adapting it to magnetotelluric data in 1970.

  • In the mid-1970s, Scripps researchers deployed Project IDA, which consists of 40 seismic stations around the globe.  Today, Scripps seismologists continue to maintain the IDA network, and use IDA data to study how and why earthquakes occur and how they relate to the formation of continents and ocean floors, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis.

  •  In 1975, Scripps researchers launched the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP), a network of wave buoys that communicates vital information about waves and other coastal activities along the coast of California and other states.  Internet delivered CDIP products are currently used by a wide range of federal, state and local agencies, as well as by commercial ventures and the general public, especially surfers and boaters.  CDIP swell models can receive over 250,000 hits per day during energetic wave events.

  • In 1992, Scripps scientist Yehuda Bock initiated a network of GPS receiving stations placed throughout Southern California to study movements of the Earth's crust to less than 1/20 of an inch.  Today, using continuous measurements of the positions of the stations, Scripps researchers rapidly determine which parts of Southern California are actively changing. These data help scientists understand why earthquakes occur and where they are most likely to strike.  Immediately following an earthquake, they use these data to pinpoint the most devastated areas, thus aiding emergency management and repair teams.

  • In 1995, using recently declassified, Navy satellite data, Scripps faculty Dave Sandwell computed a new map of the seafloor based on its gravitational effect on the shape of the sea surface.  The “Smith and Sandwell topography” (referring to the collaboration between Walter Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Sandwell) has become a standard scientific reference.  Today, Google Earth and Ocean incorporate Sandwell’s technology.  

  • In 1998, Scripps scientist Dean Roemmich led development of the revolutionary array of ocean monitoring sensors known as the Argo network Launched in 2000, the Argo program now deploys a global array of more than 3,600 free drifting profiling floats to gather subsurface ocean data to improve understanding of the climate system and climate change.  Argo data are transforming the way scientists understand the oceans and their effects on climate.

  • In 2008, Scripps climate and atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan became the first researcher to use observations to identify particulate black carbon as the second-largest human contributor to global warming behind carbon dioxide. His observations were confirmed by an international panel of scientists in 2013 and became the scientific basis of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, an international black carbon mitigation initiative joined by 24 countries, the United Nations, and the World Bank.