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Message from the Executive Vice President and Director of Research

Laurence P. Madin, PhD

Earth’s ocean is unique in the solar system. Covering most of the globe, it regulates our climate, enriches our air, modifies the character of our coastlines, feeds much of our human population, and is home to the greatest variety of living things in existence. The ocean, along with favorable properties of solar radiation, gravity, and atmosphere, has  made possible the origin and existence of life on Earth. Understanding how the ocean has evolved in the past, functions in the present, and may change in the future is the goal of research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The ocean is not an easy place to work. The coastal zone, though accessible, is highly dynamic and interacts in complex ways with the land and human activity. The open ocean is so vast that we can only see snapshots of it, and the deep sea is so remote and forbidding that highly specialized technology is needed to explore it.

WHOI scientists and engineers have worked together for more than 80 years to frame the questions, build the tools, gather the data, and compile an ever more detailed and complete understanding of how the ocean works. Our long tradition of working at sea from ships continues into the future, as we develop new undersea vehicles and instruments, ocean moorings, satellite observations, numerical models and theoretical analyses.

Oceanography is inherently interdisciplinary−all sciences meet in the sea. But an interdisciplinary approach rests on deep understanding of its disciplinary components, and WHOI’s science departments maintain some of the best expertise in the physics, chemistry, geology and biology of the oceans to be found anywhere in the world. From this basis we have built innovative and effective interdisciplinary programs in coastal research, climate science, conservation biology, observing technology and marine policy, in our Centers, Ocean Institutes, and informal groups.

People are increasingly aware of how the ocean affects human society and how human activities often damage the ocean.  Climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, pollution and habitat loss all affect the normal functioning of the ocean with which we evolved. These changes will return to us in the form of lost productivity and biodiversity, increased storm intensity, coastal erosion and sea level rise.

More than ever in history, human society needs to understand the fundamental workings of the ocean, and how to anticipate and manage its future for the benefit of life on Earth. WHOI will remain at the forefront of the scientific advances, engineering innovation and educational excellence that will lead us to that understanding.

Last updated: March 6, 2012