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Report from the President & Director

Bob Gagosain, Jim Moltz and Jim Clark
From left, Bob Gagosian with Jim Moltz, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Jim Clark, Chairman of the Corporation. (Photo by Elsa Ruiz)
In a year when many universities and research institutions made painful cuts in programs, capital investments and personnel, our strong balance sheet has allowed us to continue to focus on the future.

This future presents some new challenges. Although we continue to secure a significant share of government funds for at-sea science—a testament to the diligence and quality of our investigators, researchers, and students—federal funding itself is increasingly in question. Programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) that support most at-sea research have not increased significantly above inflation. Budget increases for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Navy, which together supported about a quarter of our work, have not translated into increased support for at-sea work.

Our endowment, which declined from $268 million in 2001 to $235 million in 2002, rebounded to $269 million. We are pleased with this turnaround and are poised to take advantage of any economic recovery that may be underway.

As the saying goes, the future is not what it used to be. We have entered a period when we need more than just innovation in science, engineering, and education. To secure our future, we need to be innovative in all of our activities.

A Changing Financial Landscape
Like most organizations, we are working to control spiraling pension and health care costs. Meanwhile, we expect government-sponsored research budgets to come under increasing pressure. For a number of years we have not relied on the government as the sole patron of science. Although only 7.4 percent of our sponsored research is from private sources, this is critical seed money for high-risk/high-reward science. This percentage is one of my highest priorities for the near future. We certainly don’t expect—or want—government-sponsored research to decrease. But greater diversity in our sources of income will mean better assurance of our security and independence of action. This is our financial objective.

New Infrastructure, New Strategies
For this reason, we are undertaking a major fundraising effort, to build on the $100 million in private funds we raised over the past four years. In January 2000, we identified initiatives of $247 million, including funds for the four Ocean Institutes, a new coastal research vessel, and campus improvements. New laboratories are needed to alleviate crowding of our investigators and students, better accommodate new technologies, and foster teamwork across disciplines. In short, to remain competitive, our researchers need the best possible facilities. Our effort is focused on two new laboratories totaling 80,000 square feet on the Quissett Campus—one for marine biology research and one for the emerging interdisciplinary field called biogeochemistry.

I want to emphasize that our fund raising efforts are focused on growth in the quality of what we do, not the quantity. I expect the Institution’s population to remain stable at about 1,000 people, with about 1,000 science and engineering projects underway at any moment. For the foreseeable future, we will operate three blue-water vessels, a new coastal vessel arriving in April 2004, and a suite of vehicles in the National Deep Submergence Facility at WHOI. It is clear, however, that new technologies in ocean sensors, data telemetry, and data processing make this a time to examine how we will study the ocean in the next 10 years—whether from ships, robotic vehicles, or permanent observatories.

To this end, in 2003 Bob Detrick, chair of the Geology and Geophysics Department, began a major exercise to develop a 10-year plan for what we call Access to the Sea.

While oceanographers will always go to sea in ships, advances in submerged vehicle technology, including human-occupied vehicles (HOVs), remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and, most recently, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), permit unprecedented access to the oceans and the deep seafloor. Perhaps most significantly, we are on the threshold of the first large-scale deployment of ocean observatories which will allow us to observe natural- and human-induced change in the oceans on the scale of decades or longer. Advances in sensors, battery technology, and data telemetry mean we will soon be able to collect data anytime, anywhere on Earth. The Access to the Sea report, due in June 2004, will provide a road map to guide our seagoing science in the next decade and to identify the resources we will need to get there.

Raising Public Awareness and Private Funds
An immediate need of our federal sponsors and our private funders is for better communication about our work and its value. A catalyst for this communication continues to be our Ocean Institutes.

In 2003, the Ocean Institutes hit their stride in their third year of operation as a means of raising public awareness of WHOI as a scientific leader and are gaining momentum as tools to raise private funds. In 2003, funding support of $2.8 million was awarded to the Institutes to support 60 WHOI investigators and students. In October, an Ocean Life Institute forum on conserving the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale drew more than 90 scientific contributors and participants from 23 institutions. We are now seeking private funding for investigations to determine how this species might be saved from extinction.

Reinforcing Our Leadership
Also in 2003, we developed a communications plan that more tightly aligns our communications efforts with key Institution strategies. In the coming year, we will give greater emphasis to the Web as a major outreach tool, increasing the richness of our Web site’s content and functionalities.

Activities in the three themes I have mentioned—the need for greater private funding, a plan for how we will study the sea in the coming decade, and ramping up communication about our work—are taking place against a backdrop of tremendous technical change in science and engineering.

Dr. Rita Colwell, the director of NSF, summed it up when she wrote: “New scientific capabilities, enhanced by molecular biology, genomics, information and communications technologies, and nanoscience and engineering are opening new paths to understanding the dynamics and complexity of ocean systems at all levels—from the nano- to the planetary.”

The science features in this report explore our work along the continuum of nano— to planetary—from single—cell organisms to entire ocean basins.

The breadth of our investigations is matched only by the breadth in skills, knowledge, and enterprise of our researchers and students. I am confident that the progress we make in 2004 toward our financial and scientific objectives will reinforce the vigor and originality of our leadership.

—Robert B. Gagosian (rgagosian@whoi.edu)
President & Director

Related Web Sites
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