Today marks 30 years since Dr. Roger Revelle passed away

We are sailing on the R/V Roger Revelle, so we wanted to take a moment to explain our ship’s namesake and his significance to the world of oceanography. Dr. Roger Revelle was born on March 7th, 1909 in Seattle, WA, and then raised in Pasadena, CA. He completed his undergraduate degree at Pomona College in geology, then he earned his Ph.D. at UC-Berkeley in oceanography. Then, Dr. Revelle started his early work in 1931 at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). During this time period, he focused on carbon, calcium, and other molecules and their interactions in seawater along with the sea floor. 

During World War II, he left SIO and served as an oceanographer for the United States Navy for 7 years, where he worked on sonar detection of submarines. During his time there, he helped to determine which projects received funding and urged the Navy to support “basic research.” Dr. Revelle’s work with the Navy pushed the Office of Naval Research to fund the work that was occurring at SIO and other oceanographic institutions for years to come. 

Later, Dr. Revelle returned to SIO as a faculty member and eventually the Director of SIO from 1950-1964, where he is credited for leading a new period of oceanographic exploration through major expeditions aimed at studying the sea floor. This period also brought about a major expansion of SIO. At this point in time, UC-San Diego (UCSD) didn’t exist, and his goal was to bring in amazing scientists around the world in hopes to create a UC campus. Dr. Revelle created the center for Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Program and later recruited Dr. Charles David Keeling (creator of the famous “Keeling Curve”) to SIO. He also recruited Dr. Hans Seuss, and they studied the carbon-14 isotope together to assess how much carbon dioxide was being released into the atmosphere from fossil fuels. In addition to recruiting scientific talent to SIO, Dr. Revelle worked on studying contamination of waters and fisheries by bomb tests and radiation from the war, ocean mixing, oceanic carbonate chemistry, and global warming. Through his efforts in recruitment and major oceanographic discovery, in 1960, Dr. Revelle helped to found UC-San Diego. 

In 1964, Dr. Revelle left UCSD to create the Center for Population Studies at Harvard University, and he became interested in applying science and technology to solving world hunger and other policy issues. One of his students there was Al Gore, who would later become the Vice President of the United States under Bill Clinton. In the late 1970s, he returned to UCSD to teach science and public policy until his death.

In addition to his work as a professor and director, he served as an advisor on various government committees and to the Secretary of the Interior. In 1991, Dr. Revelle received the National Medal of Science from President George Bush.

Portrait of Roger Revelle, UCSD Library

Dr. Revelle passed away on July 15th, 1991. After his death, many awards, research vessels, lecture series, buildings, etc. were named in his honor. Today, he is remembered as one of the main leaders of the early days of the U.S. ocean program that played a large role in discovering the greenhouse effect that would lead to our planet’s warming, among his many other significant discoveries.

-Hannah Adams (Schartup lab)

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