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May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

The Early Days
By Robert M. Norris, Scripps Ph.D. ’51

If you have any stories about your years at UCSD, we would love to hear them.
Email the editor

Although I pretend to be an alum of UCSD, when I finished my Ph.D. at Scripps in 1951, SIO was, administratively, a department of UCLA, and no UCSD existed. Since then, of course, UCSD has become a world-class institution in many fields beside oceanography and I appreciate UCSD’s willingness to allow me to share some reflected glory.

Memory tells me that there were only about 50 students on the SIO campus when I arrived in February 1949. All of us, irrespective of our area of interest, were expected to enroll in four basic courses: Roger Revelle’s Physical Oceanography; Norris Rakestraw’s Marine Chemistry; Martin Johnson’s Marine Biology; and Fran Shepard’s Submarine Geology. It was also expected that you’d go on one, or more, short cruises to help with sampling or whatever they were doing. We’d try to avoid winter-time CCOFI (California Cooperative Fishery Investigation) cruises off northern California. Memory has dimmed a bit, but the main activity I recall was making BT (Bathythermograph) casts about every half hour or so, day and night. The excitement of this activity soon began to pall, especially when one was fighting off sea-sickness. But we soldiered on, mindful that Roger Revelle had told us, “Oceanography is fun!” Also, the cook on the old E. W. Scripps was Frank (I’ve forgotten his last name) who fed us very well indeed, so well, in fact, that we sometimes thought a trip aboard the E. W. Scripps was an attractive alternative to eating our own cooking.

In those days, Scripps and Woods Hole in Massachusetts were the two dominant oceanographic institutions in the country. This resulted in a particularly rich environment for us graduate students. Whenever any scientist working on some aspect of marine science was in California, it was virtually certain that they’d spend at least a week or so at Scripps. Typically, the visits included a seminar or two as well as informal meetings with faculty and students.

I’m reminded of three occasions: Harold Urey, a chemist, noted for, among other things, his method of using oxygen isotope ratios to determine paleotemperature of fossils, etc. (We often had brown-bag lunches with him on the lawn north of old Scripps Hall.); P. H. Kuenen, a noted Dutch marine geologist, who wanted to have a look at some Pliocene turbidity current deposits near Ventura; and finally, a leading British geophysicist, E. C. “Teddy” Bullard, who went out on a one-day trip aboard the E. W. Scripps, organized, I believe, by Russ Raitt, an SIO geophysicist. I don’t remember what the purpose of this trip was, nor why I went along, as I was not a geophysics student. Perhaps it was a chance to have one of Frank’s steak dinners. I recall one of Bullard’s, no doubt facetious remarks, in one of our conversations: “There are really only two sciences, you know, astronomy; everything off the earth, and geology; everything on the earth.”

The opportunity to meet some world leaders in marine sciences as well as to participate in the early development of marine geology was a great privilege, and for me, Scripps was the place to be.

When I came to the University’s Santa Barbara campus in 1952, it was in the process of converting what had been primarily a teacher training school to a general University of California campus. Santa Barbara was seldom on the itinerary of well-known visiting scientists. The contrast with my days at SIO was dramatic.

Robert M. Norris is professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.