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U.S. Navy Honors Two WHOI Scientists

October 29, 1998

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has named Senior Scientist Robert A. Weller and Associate Scientist Steven P. Anderson of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as recipients of its 1999 Secretary of the Navy/Chief of Naval Operations Oceanographic Research Chair and ONR/Institution Scholar.  Weller received the research chair and Anderson the scholar award.  Only two of these awards were made in the country this year, the other going to a pair of MIT researchers who often collaborate with WHOI scientists and engineers.
The awards recognize “distinguished academic ocean scientists and were created to further recognize that oceanography is a core Navy competency,” according to ONR.  “In addition to promoting excellent research and education, the program fosters closer relationships between the ocean science community and the operating Navy.”  The $1.6 million ONR award includes four years of support for the Research Chair and associated ONR/Institution Scholar, and for at least two graduate students.  The Institution also provides some additional funds through cost-sharing.

Oceanographic Research Chairs and ONR/Institution Scholars develop scientific collaborations with other Navy and Marine Corps activities, advise ONR on policy and procedures for support of high quality oceanographic science and technology, and participate in ONR department reviews. They also help identify promising science and technology opportunities in oceanographic sciences, and participate in the synthesis of recently completed ONR initiatives.  Chairs and Scholars may be asked to represent the Navy and ONR science and technology efforts to the fleet, other agencies, and general audiences. The Chairs serve as mentors to the Scholars and the graduate students who will be conducting Navy-relevant research.

“This is a major honor for both Steve and me, and enables us to continue our collaborative research as well as share the benefits of that research through closer collaboration with the operational Navy,” Weller said of the honor. “The Navy needs to know about the environment in which it operates, and oceanographic research scientists like myself can contribute our knowledge to help improve their understanding of that environment.  The award enables me to pursue some research I would not be able to do otherwise, and to work with younger scientists and students in developing their research careers.”

Weller and Anderson submitted a proposal to ONR in March 1998 to study regional variability and predictability in the upper ocean in view of the challenges facing a naval battle group operating either in the open ocean or in a coastal region. This research is critical to the Navy, since the performance of air defense systems depends on the marine boundary layer conditions between the firing ship and the target, and flight and surface ship operations depend on surface meteorology and sea states driven by local winds.  Atmospheric boundary layer variability influences the performance of surface and low-flying electro-optical and electromagnetic imaging systems used by the Navy.

“This joint award recognizes the excellence of Bob Weller and Steve Anderson’s research in making very accurate measurements at the sea surface and in the upper ocean, and the value of that research to U.S. Navy needs,” WHOI Director Robert B. Gagosian said in announcing the awards.  “They have developed new tools and technologies, from instruments to computer models, that are enabling scientists to study upper ocean processes on scales from meters to tens of kilometers and with an accuracy never before available to them.  This is a rare and prestigious honor for them both, and we at WHOI are very proud.”

The award will enable the Weller/Anderson team to participate in fleet exercises involving the performance of Navy systems in the upper ocean and/or atmospheric boundary layer.   They plan to design, build and deploy two air-sea interaction surface buoys with deep-ocean anchors, and upper ocean sensors to collect time series measurements of the surface and upper ocean conditions, such as temperature, salinity and currents.  They will also build and place small instruments on Navy ships to measure surface meteorological conditions and air-sea heat, moisture and momentum exchange.  Data from the various instruments will be analyzed and used to improve forecast models.

“Understanding the horizontal and vertical variability in the upper ocean is an essential step toward improving our understanding of the marine environment,” Bob Weller said.  “The ability to observe, understand, and predict variability in the lower atmosphere and upper ocean is critical to ONR’s efforts to support the operational Navy.  They need  to develop sensing systems that perform well in the marine atmospheric boundary layer and upper ocean, allowing their operators to achieve superior detection and to take tactical advantage of the environment.  We hope to forge new ties between ONR-sponsored research and the operational Navy through workshops we will organize to focus and coordinate plans by the research community for further studies of the upper ocean and air-sea interaction. We also hope these workshops will make the transition of results from the basic research to applications and to the operational Navy much easier.”

Robert A. Weller received his Ph.D. from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, in 1972.  There he worked with Professor Russ Davis on field studies of upper ocean responses to atmospheric forcing, and the pair developed the Vector Measuring Current Meter (VMCM) with ONR support.  The patented device remains the most accurate current meter for measuring horizontal velocity in the upper ocean. Weller joined the WHOI staff in 1979 and has participated in more than 30 cruises and many large field programs involving upper ocean processes and air-sea interaction.Weller and Anderson have worked together on a number of programs in recent years.  In 1992-1993 they deployed a surface mooring that became the focal point of the field program for the Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere (TOGA) Coupled Ocean Atmosphere Experiment (COARE) in the Pacific Ocean.  The mooring returned the first accurate and complete time series of the air-sea exchanges in the western Pacific warm pool, which is directly linked to El Nino events.  They are both currently working on the NOAA-sponsored Pan-American Climate Study (PACS) of seasonal variability in the upper ocean in the eastern tropical Pacific.  Anderson spent most of September at sea recovering the last of a series of surface moorings from the El Nino warm water pool area.  The data from these PACS moorings could prove invaluable to understanding the El Nino phenomenon and in improving prediction of future events.

Steven P. Anderson attended Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1987 with a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering.  He received his Ph.D. in physical oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1992 and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship to WHOI, where he has worked primarily with Bob Weller in the Institution’s Physical Oceanography Department.  He was appointed an assistant scientist in 1994 and was promoted to Associate Scientist in 1998.