Charting a course toward an uncertain future is always a risky business, especially among shoals of fiscal restraint or national tragedy, and the prudent navigator is well advised to remember where he's been as he looks ahead. The ocean and space sciences are poised for grand joint adventures, but shrinking budgets and the lingering Challenger numbness are restrictive lee shores that must be considered when laying plans. To sharpen the focus on future choices, it may be helpful to glance in the geophysical rearview mirror and remember some of the challenges and opportunities of a different era.
A quarter century is a long time, but many images from 25 years ago can still be recalled in crisp detail, like photographs in a scrapbook. In 1961, results from the International Geophysical Year (IGY) filled the pages of the Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, and the U.S. program of space exploration finally was underway with conviction. The Indian Ocean Expedition, conceived during the IGY, ushered in a new era of international oceanography. The TIROS III satellite beamed to earth fuzzy pictures of tropical storms and revealed the intricate writhings of the Gulf Stream. Forecasters and fluid dynamicists suddenly saw new horizons, and geophysical turbulence became a major topic at the IUGG Symposium in Marseilles, France. Papers with prescient themes were presented at the AGU Ocean Section meeting: June Pattullo (then at Oregon State College, Corvallis) on heat storage in the Pacific; Ferris Webster (then at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.) on Gulf Stream meanders. Polar oceanography was well represented in AGU journals: Kenneth Hunkins (at what was then called the Lamont Geological Observatory, Palisades, N.Y.) described the Alpha Rise, discovered from a drifting Arctic ice island, and Edward Thiel (then at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis) and his co-workers discussed open ocean tides, gravimetrically measured from Antarctic ice shelves.