Coastal Ocean Institute & Rinehart Coastal Research Center History


Coastal research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was the subject of a special series of seminars and discussions in 1978-1979. Individual scientists and small groups of scientists have conducted research in estuarine, riverine, near shore, and continental shelf areas since the founding of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. These scientists had wide-ranging interests in fundamental knowledge of the marine environment and often conducted their research simultaneously or concurrently in both coastal and deep ocean areas. Thus, there was an explicit recognition that many research problems could not be arbitrarily designated as exclusively "coastal" or "open ocean". Nevertheless, the seminars and discussions did lead to the identification of three important issues relating to coastal research:

  • The need for more formal multidisciplinary interactions in order to effectively address key coastal research problems;
  • The need for enhanced facilities for experimentation; and
  • The need for unrestricted funds to initiate new multidisciplinary research ventures and to act as the "glue" binding together ongoing research projects.

The Coastal Research Center of the Woods Oceanographic Institution was established in late 1979 with the charge of meeting these needs and initiating and carrying out projects in coastal scientific research that, because of their size, scope, and interdisciplinary nature, would not normally be undertaken within the individual departments of the Institution. Approximately one-third of WHOI's scientific effort is directed to coastal research and RCRC builds on existing departmental excellence by facilitating interdepartmental research projects and interactions with other institutions and groups. Under the RCRC umbrella, scientists, engineers, and students combine forces for multi-disciplinary field and laboratory studies on local, national, and international scales. As constituted, the Center has no permanent Scientific Staff. Research within the Center is carried out by scientists, engineers and students from the several scientific departments who devote various periods of time, from weeks to years, to projects within the Center. The Center serves as a home for visiting scientists and post-doctoral investigators who are invited to the Institution to participate with WHOI staff in specific research projects within the Coastal Research Center. From time to time, personnel other than scientific staff are assigned to the Center to meet specific needs.

Dr. John H. Ryther, Senior Scientist in the Biology Department, was the first Director of the Coastal Research Center, serving until October 1981. A Planning Committee consisting of representatives from the Scientific Staff of each WHOI department, the Marine Policy Program, and the Sea Grant Program was established with the charge of providing advice the Center Director in areas of research projects, budgets, and experimental facilities. Dr. John W. Farrington, served as first Chairman of the Planning Committee until October 1981, when he succeeded Dr. Ryther as Center Director. Dr. William D. Grant succeeded Dr. Farrington as Chairman of the Planning Committee which was made a permanent Advisory Committee. Other original Planning Committee members included Dr. David G. Aubrey, Geology & Geophysics; Dr. Robert C. Beardsley, Physical Oceanography; Dr. Judith M. Capuzzo, Biology; Dr. Kirk Cochran, Chemistry; Dr. Susan Peterson, Marine Policy Program; and Dr. David A. Ross, Sea Grant.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided support for initial Center activities. Two grants were awarded: the first grant was expended primarily in support of scientific and technical staff activities during the period 1980-1984; the second grant, was to be spent on one or more specific projects initiated within the Center at any time during the five-year period. The important work of the Planning Committee during its first three years was supported by a third grant from the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has recently awarded a challenge grant to WHOI to initiate a coastal research endowment to permanently support innovative coastal research.

In 1996, long-time Institution supporter and Corporation Member Gratia Rinehart Montgomery made a generous gift of $5 million to endow coastal research at WHOI. The entire WHOI family acknowledged this remarkable gift by dedicating the Coastal Research Center in her name. The effect of her gift will be felt immediately throughout the international coastal research community as the newly-energized RCRC undertakes exciting research ventures.

Today, the primary objective of the Rinehart Coastal Research Center (RCRC) remains unchanged: to improve understanding of the coastal ocean--its biology, chemistry, geology, and physics--through innovative research and education. The Center seeks to encourage and initiate interdisciplinary research on fundamental coastal ocean processes and communicate the results of this research to the scientific, resource management, and policy communities and to the general public. RCRC also seeks to develop the intellectual and technical infrastructure necessary to support advanced research on coastal ocean processes. RCRC activity falls into five broad areas: research facilitation, education, communication, outreach, and facilities and research projects range from a multi-national study of the Black Sea to regional studies that include Buzzards Bay and the Gulf of Maine/Massachusetts Bay system. Experimental studies utilizing flumes, wave tanks, and mesocosms (laboratory scale ecosystems that approximate natural conditions) are conducted by small informal groups of scientists from WHOI and other institutions. The Center supports the WHOI post-doctoral program and provides seed funds for graduate student thesis research on coastal topics. Through professional publications, technical reports, special workshops, and topical books, RCRC conveys relevant scientific and technical information to marine scientists, environmental specialists, resource managers, and the public to help protect coastal resources. Periodic lectures by eminent coastal scientists include a special award administered by the Center in memory of Bostwick H. Ketchum, a WHOI pioneer in coastal studies. RCRC also provides support facilities including a small-boat fleet, oceanographic sampling equipment, and office space for visitors.