by Margaret Leinen,
U.S. National Science Foundation
When I was asked to give the last talk at this meeting I began thinking
about the kinds of talks that you’ve heard at this symposium - some of the
remarkable achievements of the program and its rich history and scientific legacy.
But then the organizing committee told me that what they had in mind was an
“epilogue”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the theatrical definition
of epilogue: the epilogue is a speech given by one of the actors at the end of
the play that generally has some lesson or explication of the play - generally something
that the playwright thinks you might not have “gotten”.
The request for the epilogue came while I was working with our advisory
committee on environmental research and education on the development
of a ten year plan for interdisciplinary environmental research to
be funded by NSF. In this context I began to see a different kind
of legacy that you have left - a different kind of lesson learned
from your work.
I think that you have changed the culture of science.
There have been large programs before and you’ve heard ideas about the new large
programs that are being planned. But this program has been very special in forging a
new approach for large programs and for science.
The principal complaint from those who believe that the work of large groups is not
money well spent is that it doesn’t lead to the breakthroughs that are led by single
investigators and small groups. Basically that it is pedestrian science at a large scale.
JGOFS is the best example I know of the foolishness of this view. You changed the
culture of the big science experiment and, in the process, changed the culture of science.
First and foremost, JGOFS had a bold vision - you sought to answer
one of the biggest questions facing us.
JGOFS has two primary goals:
2. To develop a capability to predict on a global scale the response
of oceanic biogeochemical processes to anthropogenic perturbations,
in particular those related to climate change.
This was an amazingly ambitious goal for the mid-1980s. In order to
achieve it we had to accomplish the first goal
1. To determine and understand on a global scale the processes controlling the time-varying
fluxes of carbon and associated biogenic elements in the ocean and to evaluate the related
exchanges with the atmosphere, sea floor and continental boundaries;
JGOFS said that we would understand the processes in the major biogeochemical provinces and the
level of basic equations, put them together with a few spatial and temporal surveys of major
components of the system and serve up predictions of the response of the ocean to anthropogenic
forcing - and that we would do it in a decade. Vaulting ambition.
I think the key to the success of this vaulting ambition was that it took on a clearly focused
challenge, but an extraordinarily ambitious one.
The process studies that were done had all the elements of good science - they were hypothesis driven -
with multiple working hypotheses.
Together with WOCE, these were the first big programs in which experiment
and observation were intimately intertwined with modeling. While those
of us with gray hair at this meeting still make jokes about modelers
if we are observational scientists, or about data generators if we
are modelers, these jokes are on the verge of being lost on the present
generation of students. They use models routinely. Experiments in
silico are as much a part of their culture as experiments in tube,
tanks, or the ocean, both for large scale processes on which we are
incapable of experimenting and for small scale processes. The models
are the algorithmic embodiment of hypothesis, and they are now part
of our culture rather than the domain of a few people with access
to enough computational power to do them.
This points to one of the major factors in the evolution of this new
culture - the revolutionary capabilities of computing, networking
and data architecture. In our case, the culture change has co-evolved
with these capabilities, and JGOFS has embraced - and many times led
- that co-evolution. I'll come back to this again.
One of the primary reasons that this program was able to be interdisciplinary
and international from the beginning was that a small company focused
on the ocean science community and provided a painless way of electronic
communication to us all. Before MOSAIC, MOZILLA and NETSCAPE, at a
time when my colleagues in the university were hard pressed to communicate
with anyone via the computer, I had an address book of a thousand
oceanographers with whom I could be in touch in a moment. The first
JGOFS Steering Committee could communicate effortlessly, exchanging
drafts of planning materials, discussions of issues and planning activities
When we did go to sea we could continue to exchange information, satellite imagery, advice and data
while at sea.
A related legacy was that, together with WOCE, the program saw the need for large scale data management
and the development of new data architecture from the beginning. Glenn Flierl, Peter Cornillon, and a
group of their colleagues developed new tools for us to use a wide range of oceanographic data easily
These innovations foreshadowed the call for cyberinfrastructure or
e-science that is now a rallying cry for all of science. This program
developed its own cyberinfrastructure and in doing so provided tools
to all of ocean science and to many other areas of science. The basic
data architecture developed by DODS is now the paradigm for most of
ocean science, for most of atmosphere and earth science, for the vanguard
of ecological science, and has spread into math, physics, engineering
and behavioral science because it is the underlying engine for the
National Science Foundation Digital Library initiative ...
You did that.
This communication and data revolution also led to a democritization of our science. No one had to
be at one of the five or six largest oceanographic institutions to participate. No one had to be the
student of one of the dozen or so leaders who met in Woods Hole in 1984 to plan this future. You
could be a PI or a student anywhere.
An extraordinary achievement of the program and change in the culture
of our science was the interdisciplinarity of the program. Many programs
in IGY and IDOE (International Decade of Ocean Exploration) were multidisciplinary.
Lots of expertise thrown at problems. But none of those efforts achieve
interdisciplinarity. In JGOFS ...
Air sea exchange
Ocean particulate reactions and dynamics
to name just the obvious fields, were actually brought together in the planning of the program,
and were executed together.
I remember the first PI meeting for EqPac in the US and the need to negotiate the sampling strategy
to adapt to nearly 70 PIs. More so than any program I know, this program achieved interdisciplinarity.
It foreshadowed modern calls for integrated approaches to the study of complex non-linear environmental
Another innovation was time series observation. JGOFS took the extraordinary
step of establishing HOT and BATS, and the even more extradordinary
step of continuing them after 10 years. This exploration of processes
in the time domain rather than the spatial domain has resulted in
some amazing insights - the complementary increase in CO2 in surface
water and the atmosphere, the role of nitrogen fixers in nitrogen
cycling in oligotrophic waters.
You studied the ocean at the appropriate spatial scales for the nature of the biogeochemical provinces,
but also at the appropriate temporal scales for the dynamic evolving processes. Now everyone wants to
Finally, you took the time for synthesis. The last phase of synthesis and modeling for JGOFS was
another extraordinary innovation. I can think of no other program of this scale that took the time
for synthesis across disciplines that you have taken. This too has led to a change in the thinking
of many large programs. It has also led to a call for more explicit investment in the time to think
about results and to combine them with the results of others. We are beginning to see the call for
new infrastructure tools - centers and collaboratories - to invest in synthesis as you have done.
So here we stand, having not only made remarkable scientific discoveries,
having not only made remarkable progress in being able to predict
the effect of anthropogenic change on the oceans, but having changed
the way that science is done.
Congratulations to all of you, to all of us.