Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

June Photos of the Month

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography came to my attention a few months ago when I learned that they have collected giant sea spider specimens from Antarctica, and my interest was piqued! Though I’m certainly a big fan of visiting the ocean, I've been relatively unfamiliar with oceanography as a field. Learning about both Marie Tharp's discovery of the Mid Ocean Ridge Rift Valley and Scripps has been a fascinating way to start understanding our planet’s oceans, seafloors, and the scientific processes involved in studying them.

I’m very excited to introduce Scripps to you for June’s Photos of the Month! Let’s get into it!

Scripps Institution in 1916
Scripps Institution in 1916


The history of Scripps begins in 1903, when it was founded as the Marine Biological Association of San Diego. The Institution was founded by William E. Ritter and Fred Baker, a biologist and a physician, aiming to advance marine sciences. With funding from Edward Willis Scripps and his half sister Ellen Browning Scripps, the Association bought property near La Jolla Cove in 1905 and finished construction on their laboratory in 1910. In 1912, the Association changed its name to the Scripps Institution for Biological Research, in honor of their patrons, and became the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1925. This photo is of the laboratory and its famous pier back in 1916.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel Alexander Agassiz
Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel Alexander Agassiz, November 1907


When researching Scripps, I often saw images of this schooner: The Alexander Agassiz research vessel. The vessel was named after the marine biologist and oceanographer who specialized in the study of echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, sea lilies, and their respective families) and pioneered dredging technologies and methodologies. The vessel set sail for the first Scripps expedition in 1907 to study near the Los Coronados islands.

During World War I, the vessel was conscripted as a civilian auxiliary schooner in the American military, and was even captured by another American ship in 1918 after it was suspected of being a German raider vessel. The Alexander Agassiz was used by Scripps for several expeditions and then unfortunately ran aground in the San Francisco Bay in 1920. Eventually, there was a second Alexander Agassiz vessel operated from 1962-1976 by the Marine Life Research program, before being sold as a crab-fishing vessel to a Seattle company.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography physical oceanographer George Francis McEwen with bottom snapper
Scripps Institution of Oceanography physical oceanographer George Francis McEwen with bottom snapper


The above photo is of George Francis McEwan at Scripps in the 1930’s. His work at Scripps focused on hydrography, climatology, and meteorology. One of his most notable projects was determining ocean currents and collecting temperature data in order to create a long-term weather forecasting model. Unfortunately, this project was not successful, and McEwen moved on to other areas of study such as dispersion of silt in oceans. This led him to working on the Manhattan Project, where he calculated dispersion of radioactive material during Operation Crossroads.

The above photo was taken in the 1930s, and was likely when McEwan was still collecting ocean current data for his long-term weather forecasting model.

Harald Sverdrup on the deck of a ship
Harald Sverdrup on the deck of a ship


Harald Sverdrup, in the above picture, was a prolific scientist, an arctic explorer, and considered one of the fathers of oceanography. He served as the director of Scripps from 1936 to 1948. What was initially meant to be a 3 year position turned into 12 due to World War II. During his tenure, he wrote the textbook The Oceans, Their Physics, Chemistry and General Biology, a seminal text on the subject. Sverdrup eventually returned to his native Norway and became Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, overseeing the Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition to Antarctica between 1949-1952.

Russell Raitt examining seismic records, Capricorn Expedition
Scripps geophysicist Russell Raitt examining seismic records, Capricorn Expedition


The above photo of Russell Raitt was taken during the Capricorn Expedition between September 1952 and February 1953, as Raitt examined seismic records. Capricorn was the fourth of a series of expeditions aimed at studying various facets of the Pacific Ocean between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. They explored the Tonga Trench in the Pacific basin, measured heat flow on the East Pacific Rise, studied ocean topography, and made over 200 biological collections along their route. This expedition was also the first time Scripps used scuba divers, and it aimed to examine ocean topography, coral reefs, sediment, meteorology and atmospheric electricity. 

Russell Raitt, an oceanographer, participated in these ocean surveys in the 1950s and 1960s specifically to collect data about the formation of the sea floor. During the Capricorn Expedition, this involved seismic shooting, echo sounding, coring, and magnetic surveys to map the ocean floor and its underlying rock. This data was integral in the development of the theory of plate tectonics.

Roger Revelle on deck with specimens, doing boat work on the E.W. Scripps
Roger Revelle on deck with specimens, doing boat work on the E.W. Scripps


These photos were taken during the Gulf of California Expedition between 1939 and 1940. Above, we see a picture of a younger Roger Revelle looking at collected specimens. Roger Revelle eventually became Director at Scripps during a time of extensive exploration of the ocean floor. He pioneered several cooperative international scientific programs and also provided governmental counsel on the dangers of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

Below, we see other oceanographers that did work on the expedition. In the 1939 leg of the expedition, led by Harald Sverdrup, they aimed to study the hydrography of the Gulf and how it exchanged with the Pacific Ocean. The crew took over 2500 soundings measuring the depth of the water and revolutionized the scientific view of the Gulf floor.

In 1940, Roger Revelle and Francis P. Shepard took over the second leg of the expedition. The purpose of that portion was to study the geologic history and processes of the Gulf, including its topography, sediments, and marine environments. 

Crew on the Gulf of California Expedition
Roger Revelle with crew on the Gulf of California Expedition. (L-R): Erik Moberg, Roger Revelle, Andrew Boffinger, Richard Fleming (with binoculars), Bob MacDonald, George Hale, Lee Haines, Walter Robinson, Martin Johnson and Loye H. Miller

Roger Revelle and Robert Dietz discussing the significance of lithfied globigerina ooze dredged from Western Pacific
Roger Revelle and Robert Dietz, co-chief scientists on the MidPac Expedition, 1950, discussing the significance of lithfied globigerina ooze dredged from Western Pacific. The Cretaceous fossils enclosed indicated a much younger age than expected - a mystery which remained unresolved until later explained by plate tectonics and continental drift.


Pictured here are Roger Revelle and Robert Dietz, who were co-chief scientists of the MidPac Expedition in 1950. Robert Dietz was a marine geologist known for his contributions to mapping the Pacific Ocean floor, discovering flat-topped structures across the ocean floor (seamounts and guyots), and discovering the first fracture zone in the Pacific– leading to the theory of seafloor spreading and continental drift. The MidPac Expedition discovered the Mid-Pacific Mountains at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and found  that they were young and rocky rather than old and filled with sediments. 

In this photo, the pair are holding a lithified globigerina. Lithification refers to the process where sediment is converted into rock, usually by being compacted under pressure or cementation. A globigerina is a type of planktonic organism (also known as a foraminifera) that has a rounded, spiny shell and lives near the surface of the ocean. Globigerinas– along with other members of the foraminifera family– have often been used to document and track global temperature changes and map where tropics have been distributed in the past. 

Here, Dietz and Revelle are discussing how this globigerina contains younger fossils than they expected. Research into plate tectonics and continental drift would eventually provide answers to the conundrum of its age.


“Alexander Agassiz (Auxiliary Schooner, in Service 1918).” Civilian Ships, February 15, 2003.….

“Alexander Agassiz Expedition, November 1, 1907.” Alexander Agassiz Expedition. Accessed June 20, 2023.

Anderson, C., Revelle, R., & Shepard, F. (1940). Voyage of the E.W. Scripps to the Gulf of California, Account of the Expedition, October-December, 1940. UC San Diego: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved from

Ashworth, William B. “Scientist of the Day: Robert Dietz.” The Linda Hall Library, May 19, 2022.

Elliott, J. Michael. “Russell W. Raitt, 87, a Scientist Who Helped Map the Sea Floor.” The New York Times, March 19, 1995.….

George Francis McEwen Biography. Accessed June 20, 2023.

“Gulf of California Expedition, 1939.” Gulf of California Expedition. Accessed June 20, 2023.

Nierenberg, William A. Harald Ulrick Sverdrup, 1888-1957, 1996.….

“Out to Sea and Back Again.” Essay. In Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Probing the Oceans, 1936 to 1976. University of California Press, 1988.

Revelle, R. (1950). Notes on the Joint Scripps Institution of Oceanography-U.S. Navy Electronics Laboratory MID-PACIFIC Expedition. UC San Diego: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved from

Revelle, R. (1943). Soundings in the Gulf of California and off the West Coast of Lower California in 1939. UC San Diego: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved from

“Robert S. Dietz.” Encyclopædia Britannica, May 15, 2023.

“Roger Randall Dougan Revelle.” Roger Revelle. Accessed June 20, 2023.

Scripps Family Papers on the Founding of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. SMC 3. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library. 

“Scripps History.” Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Accessed June 20, 2023.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (1953). Shipboard Report, Capricorn Expedition 26 September 1952 – 21 February 1953. UC San Diego: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved from

“Scripps Institution of Oceanography/U.S. Navy Electronics Laboratory.” MidPac Expedition, 1950. Accessed June 20, 2023.

Wetmore, Karen. “Foram Facts — An Introduction to Foraminifera.” Foram Facts - An Introduction to Foraminifera. Accessed June 20, 2023.

About the Author

Max Howell

Max Howell

Max Howell is the Manuscript Archivist. They have a B.A. from the Evergreen State College and an MSLIS from Simmons College. Maxwell handles the manuscript collections by accessioning, processing, describing, and providing access to researchers. One of their favorite books in the collection is The Bastard Brigade by Sam Kean.

Cover image of The Bastard Brigade

See all articles by Max Howell

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