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Letter to the President of the Senate on Increasing the National Effort in Oceanography.

March 29, 1961

My dear Mr. President:

The seas around us, as I pointed out in my message to the Congress on February 23, represent one of our most important resources. If vigorously developed, this resource can be a source of great benefit to the Nation and to all mankind.

But it will require concerted action, purposefully directed, with vision and ingenuity. It will require the combined efforts of our scientists and institutions, both public and private, and the coordinated efforts of many Federal agencies. It will involve substantial investments in the early years for the construction and operation of ship and shore facilities for research and surveys, the development of new instruments for charting the seas and gathering data, and the training of new scientific manpower.

We are just at the threshold of our knowledge of the oceans. Already their military importance, their potential use for weather predictions, for food and for minerals are evident. Further research will undoubtedly disclose additional uses.

Knowledge of the oceans is more than a matter of curiosity. Our very survival may hinge upon it. Although understanding of our marine environment and maps of the ocean floor would afford to our military forces a demonstrable advantage, we have thus far neglected oceanography. We do not have adequate charts of more than one or two percent of the oceans.

The seas also offer a wealth of nutritional resources. They already are a principal source of protein. They can provide many times the current food supply if we but learn how to garner and husband this self-renewing larder. To meet the vast needs of an expanding population, the bounty of the sea must be made more available. Within two decades, our own nation will require over a million more tons of seafood than we now harvest.

Mineral resources on land will ultimately reach their limits. But the oceans hold untapped sources of such basic minerals as salt, potassium and magnesium in virtually limitless quantities. We will be able to extract additional elements from sea water, such as manganese, nickel, cobalt and other elements known to abound on the ocean floor, as soon as the processes are developed to make it economically feasible.

To predict, and perhaps some day to control, changes in weather and climate is of the utmost importance to man everywhere. These changes are controlled to a large and yet unknown extent by what happens in the ocean. Ocean and atmosphere work together in a still mysterious way to determine our climate. Additional research is necessary to identify the factors in this interplay.

These are some of the reasons which compel us to embark upon a national effort in oceanography. I am therefore requesting funds for 1962 which will nearly double our government's investment over 1961, and which will provide $23 million more for oceanography than what was recommended in the 1962 budget submitted earlier. A summary and comparison of the 1960, 1961 and 1962 budgets is contained in two tables which are enclosed with this letter.

1. Ship Construction.

The proposed program for 1962 includes $37 million for ship construction, an increase of $23 million over 1961. This will provide for 10 oceanographic vessels. Only two will replace existing ships. The others will be used to meet needs that have long existed in Federal agencies and other oceanographic institutions conducting research for the Government.

The present United States oceanographic fleet is composed of 27 research ships and 17 survey vessels. All but two were constructed prior to the end of World War II; many are over thirty years old. Only two of the ships Were designed specifically for research purposes; the remainder has been converted from a variety of ships designed for other uses. Thus the success of the national oceanographic program will depend heavily on the construction of the new specially designed vessels proposed for 1962.

2. Shore Facilities and Dam Center.

Shore facilities are urgently required to provide laboratory space for analysis and interpretation of data and to train new oceanographers. In occanographic research about five scientists and technicians are required ashore for each scientist aboard ship.

For 1962, $10 million is being requested for laboratories and wharfside facilities. This represents a five-fold increase over 1961. It includes, for example, funds for a new Bureau of Commercial Fisheries laboratory to replace a forty-year old structure and additional laboratory space at universities and other oceanographic institutions.

An essential part of the shore establishment is the new National Oceanographic Data .Center which will begin its first full year of operation in 1962. This Center will make available to the scientific community oceanographic data collected throughout the world.

3. Basic and Applied Research.

The conduct of research is the central purpose of our whole national effort in oceanography. New ships and shore facilities are essential tools of scientific research, but it is the research itself that will yield new knowledge of the earth's "inner space", and new uses of the sea. The proposed program includes $41 million for basic and applied research in oceanography. This is an increase of $9 million over the 1961 level.

Basic research is the cornerstone on which the successful use of the seas must rest. Progress here is largely dependent on the work of scientists at many universities and laboratories throughout the United States and on ships at sea. Their investigations cover all aspects of the marine environment, the motion and composition of ocean waters, the evolution and distribution of marine plants and animals, the shape and composition of the ocean bottom, and many other geophysical and biological problems. Of timely significance is the attempt to penetrate to the earth's mantle to better our understanding of the origin and history of our planet. This undertaking, known as Project Mohole, involves the development of new drilling methods that can be used in the deep seas. This project has recently resulted in a spectacular achievement. Samples from nearly a thousand feet beneath the sea floor were obtained by drilling in three thousand feet of water.

Considerable attention will also be given to applied problems in the marine sciences. Oceanographers will be studying such problems as sound propagation in water, the effects of changes in ocean conditions on the movement of ships, weather forecasting, and fisheries management. Methods of predicting changes in ocean conditions also are being developed. Eventually they may lead to maps of "weather within the sea" much like the atmospheric weather maps of today.

Many advances are being made in methods of exploring the seas. Oceanographers are now able to descend to the great depths in bathyscaphes. New electronic equipment will allow them to probe the ocean and to "see" with sound pulses what before has been opaque. Using these new techniques, our scientists already have discovered vast currents below the ocean surface a thousand times larger than the flow of the Mississippi.

4. Training of Oceanographers.

The most important part of our long-range program in oceanography is the training of young scientists. Scientific manpower of every sort will be needed--technicians, college graduates, and post-graduate researchers-and they must be trained in many scientific disciplines. This training should go hand in hand with the conduct of research at universities and other oceanographic institutions. By their support of these institutions, the programs of the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare will be of major importance to an expanding program in oceanography; for they can result in the education of new young scientists as well as in the production of new knowledge. In the coming year, these agencies are undertaking to increase the number of fellowship awards and graduate student research contracts, and they also will encourage the development of new university programs in oceanography.

5. Ocean Surveys.

World-wide surveys of the oceans--their properties, their contents and boundaries-are needed to make charts and maps for use of scientists in their research programs and for a variety of commercial and defense applications. The United States' ocean survey program for FY 1962 is being increased within the limits of ships available for this purpose. I am requesting additional funds to allow the Coast and Geodetic Survey to extend the operating season of its existing ships, thus making the maximum use of limited ship resources. As already mentioned, funds are included for a new survey ship which will increase our deep-sea survey capability.

6. International Cooperation.

Oceanography is a natural area of opportunity for extensive international cooperation. Indeed, systematic surveys and research in all the oceans of the world represent tasks of such formidable magnitude that international sharing of the work is a necessity.

Our present maps of the oceans are comparable in accuracy and detail to maps of the land areas of the earth in the early part of the 18th century. Precise methods of measuring ocean depths have become available during the last ten years, and these, when combined with new developments in navigation, should make possible for the first time modern maps of the topography of the entire sea floor. An accurate mapping of the oceans will require international cooperation in ship operations and in establishing a world-wide system of navigation. In these endeavors the United States can play a leading part.

This year an Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is being established under UNESCO to provide a means whereby interested countries can cooperate in research and in making surveys and maps of the deep sea floor, the ocean waters, and their contained organisms. Membership on the Commission is open to all countries of the UN family that desire to cooperate in oceanography. The United States intends to participate fully in the activities of the Commission.

The United States also will participate in the International Indian Ocean Expedition. Many nations, including the Soviet Union, are cooperating in this expedition under the non-governmental sponsorship of the International Council of Scientific Unions. Over a quarter of the world's people live in the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. If more can be learned of the Indian Ocean's extensive food resources, these nations can be helped to develop and expand their fishing industries as part of their general economic development.

7. The Coast Guard.

At present, the Coast Guard enabling legislation limits the extent to which the Coast Guard can engage in scientific research. Only the International Ice Patrol is authorized to make such studies. I recommend that the statutory limitations restricting the participation by the Coast Guard in oceanographic research be removed. With ocean weather stations, deep sea thermometers, and other data collection devices, our Coast Guard can make a valuable contribution to the oceanographic program.


Knowledge and understanding of the oceans promise to assume greater and greater importance in the future. This is not a one-year program--or even a ten-year program. It is the first step in a continuing effort to acquire and apply the information about a part of our world that will ultimately determine conditions of life in the rest of the world. The opportunities are there. A vigorous program will capture those opportunities.



Note: The two tables summarizing the national oceanographic program budget for 1960, 1961, and 1962, referred to in the President's message, were also released.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the President of the Senate on Increasing the National Effort in Oceanography. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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