Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI, acronym pronounced /ˈhi/ HOO-ee) is a private, nonprofit research and higher education facility dedicated to the study of marine science and engineering.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Village campus
Established1930; 94 years ago (1930)
Research typeMarine sciences and marine engineering
PresidentPeter B. de Menocal
Staff1,000 (approximate)
LocationWoods Hole, Massachusetts

Established in 1930 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, it is the largest independent oceanographic research institution in the U.S., with staff and students numbering about 1,000.



The institution is organized into six departments,[1] the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Ocean Research, and a marine policy center. Its shore-based facilities are located in the village of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, United States and a mile and a half away on the Quissett Campus. The bulk of the institution's funding comes from grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation and other government agencies, augmented by foundations and private donations.

WHOI scientists, engineers, and students collaborate to develop theories, test ideas, build seagoing instruments, and collect data in diverse marine environments. Ships operated by WHOI carry research scientists throughout the world's oceans. The WHOI fleet includes two large research vessels (Atlantis and Neil Armstrong), the coastal craft Tioga, small research craft such as the dive-operation work boat Echo, the deep-diving human-occupied submersible Alvin, the tethered, remotely operated vehicle Jason/Medea, and autonomous underwater vehicles such as the REMUS and SeaBED.

WHOI offers graduate and post-doctoral studies in marine science. There are several fellowship and training programs, and graduate degrees are awarded through a joint program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[2][3] WHOI is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.[4] WHOI also offers public outreach programs and informal education through its Exhibit Center and summer tours. The institution has a volunteer program and a membership program, WHOI Associate.

WHOI shares a library, the MBLWHOI Library, with the Marine Biological Laboratory. The MBLWHOI Library holds print and electronic collections in the biological, biomedical, ecological, and oceanographic sciences. The library also conducts digitization and informatics projects.

On October 1, 2020, Peter B. de Menocal became the institution's eleventh president and director.[5]


R/V Atlantis, the first research vessel operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, pictured here in 1955 near the Virgin Islands[6]

In 1927, a National Academy of Sciences committee concluded that it was time to "consider the share of the United States of America in a worldwide program of oceanographic research." The committee's recommendation for establishing a permanent independent research laboratory on the East Coast to "prosecute oceanography in all its branches" led to the founding in 1930 of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.[7]

A $2.5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation supported the summer work of a dozen scientists, construction of a laboratory building and commissioning of a research vessel, the 142-foot (43 m) ketch Atlantis, whose profile still forms the institution's logo.[7]

WHOI grew substantially to support significant defense-related research during World War II, and later began a steady growth in staff, research fleet, and scientific stature. From 1950 to 1956, the director was Dr. Edward "Iceberg" Smith, an Arctic explorer, oceanographer and retired Coast Guard rear admiral.[8]

In 1977 the institution appointed oceanographer John Steele as director, and he served until his retirement in 1989.[9]

On 1 September 1985, a joint French-American expedition led by Jean-Louis Michel of IFREMER and Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution identified the location of the wreck of RMS Titanic, which sank off the coast of Newfoundland 15 April 1912.

On 3 April 2011, within a week of resuming of the search operation for Air France Flight 447, a team led by WHOI, operating full ocean depth autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) owned by the Waitt Institute discovered, by means of sidescan sonar, a large portion of debris field from flight AF447.[10]

Marine Biological Laboratory Library bookplate, 1914

In March 2017 the institution effected an open-access policy to make its research publicly accessible online.[11]

In 2019, iDefense reported that China's hackers had launched cyberattacks on dozens of academic institutions in an attempt to gain information on technology being developed for the United States Navy.[12] Some of the targets included the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.[12] The attacks had been underway since at least April 2017.[12]

In August 2024, institution researchers are scheduled, pending approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to conduct a $10 million ocean alkalinity enhancement experiment partially funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that will release 6,000 gallons of a liquid solution of sodium hydroxide into the ocean 10 miles south of Martha's Vineyard in an attempt to remove 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[13]

Military contracting


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution develops technology for the United States Navy, including ocean battlespace sensors,[14] unmanned undersea vehicles,[15] and acoustic navigation and communication systems for operations in the Arctic.[16] The institution is also working on Project Sundance for the Office of Naval Research.[17]

Awards issued


B. H. Ketchum Award


The B. H. Ketchum award, established in 1983, is presented for innovative coastal/nearshore research and is named in honor of oceanographer Bostwick H. "Buck" Ketchum. The award is administered by the WHOI Coastal Ocean Institute and Rinehart Coastal Research Center.


Henry Bryant Bigelow Medal in Oceanography


The Henry Bryant Bigelow Medal in Oceanography was established in 1960 in honor of the first WHOI Director, biologist Henry Bryant Bigelow.

Recipients: Source:[19]

  • 2004 David M. Karl (Professor of Oceanography, University of Hawaii) – for "his contributions to microbial oceanography, especially the development and leadership of long-term, integrated studies of chemical, physical, and biological variations in oceanic environments."
  • 1996 Bill J. Jenkins (Senior Scientist, Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry, WHOI) – for "his outstanding contributions to the development of the tritium-helium dating technique and its application to problems in ocean physics and biology and geochemistry, as well as his exceptional character and selfless dedication to the advance of science at WHOI."
  • 1993 Robert Weller (Senior Scientist, Physical Oceanography; Director, CICOR; WHOI)
  • 1992 Alice Louise Alldredge (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Mary Wilcox Silver (University of California, Santa Cruz) – for "their creative contributions to biological and chemical oceanography, particularly in demonstrating the importance of ‘marine snow’ as a major contributor to the vertical flux of particulate matter throughout the worlds oceans."
  • 1988 Hans Thomas Rossby (University of Rhode Island) and Douglas Chester Webb (Webb Research) – for "Their creative contributions to ocean technology and oceanography, particularly in the development of the SOFAR float and advancing out knowledge of Lagrangian ocean dynamics."
  • 1984 Arnold L. Gordon (Columbia University) for his "dedication in completing the Antarctic Circumpolar Survey"
  • 1980 Holger W. Jannasch (WHOI) – for his "creative contributions to marine microbiology by providing us with an understanding of the fundamentals of microbial processes in the sea and the dynamics of oceanic food chains."
  • 1979 Wolfgang Helmut Berger (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego) – for his "creative contributions to paleoceanography by opening the doors of perception on the controlling factors governing carbonate sedimentation in the oceans, and for providing us with a unifying conceptual model for interpreting the geological evolution of ocean basins."
  • 1974 Henry M. Stommel (WHOI)
  • 1970 Frederick J. Vine (WHOI) – In recognition of his "imaginative and sound contributions to man’s understanding of the formative processes active within the earth."
  • 1966 Columbus O'D. Iselin (WHOI)
  • 1964 Bruce C. Heezen (WHOI)
  • 1962 John C. Swallow (WHOI)
  • 1960 Henry Bryant Bigelow



Over the years, WHOI scientists have made seminal discoveries about the ocean that have contributed to improving US commerce, health, national security, and quality of life. They have received awards and recognition from scientific societies such as The Oceanography Society, the American Geophysical Union, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and several others.[20]

Notable scientists include:

  • Amy Bower, senior scientist, blind oceanographer
  • Stan Hart, scientist emeritus, William Bowie Medal recipient[21]
  • Elizabeth Kujawinski, American oceanographer, Woods Hole Senior Scientist[22]
  • Loral O’Hara, research engineer, NASA astronaut
  • Christopher Reddy, senior scientist, oil spill researcher[23]
  • Alfred C. Redfield (1890 – 1983), oceanographer. Discovered the Redfield ratio and served as WHOI senior biologist from 1930 to 1942, and associate director between 1942 and 1957. The Institute's Redfield Laboratory was named in his honor in 1971.[24]
  • Mary Sears, senior scientist in marine biology who served at the Naval Hydrographic Office in World War II compiling oceanographic intelligence for the Pacific Campaign[25]
  • Heidi Sosik, senior scientist in Biology, inventor[26]
  • Klaus Hasselmann, Doherty Professor at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 1970 to 1972[27]
  • Robert Ballard, oceanographer, retired US Navy officer, explorer and maritime archeologist who found the wreck of the Titanic

Research fleet



R/V Atlantis (AGOR-25)

WHOI operates several research vessels, owned by the United States Navy, the National Science Foundation, or the institution:

WHOI formerly operated R/V Knorr, which was replaced by R/V Neil Armstrong in 2015.[28]

Small boat fleet


WHOI operates many small boats used in inland harbors, ponds, rivers, and coastal bays. All are owned by the institution itself.

  • Motorboat Echo – 29 feet long (mainly used as a work boat to support dive operations, also the newest small research craft at WHOI)
  • Motorboat Mytilus – 24 feet long (mainly used in water too shallow for larger craft and is a versatile coastal research boat)
  • Motorboat Calanus – 21 feet long (mainly used in local water bodies such as Great Harbor, Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay)
  • Motorboat Limulus – 13 feet long (mainly used to shuttle equipment to larger craft and as a work platform for near-shore research tasks)
  • Rowboat Orzrus – 12 feet long (mainly used in harbors and ponds where motor craft are not permitted)

Underwater vehicles

Alvin (DSV-2) in 1978

WHOI also has developed numerous underwater autonomous and remotely operated vehicles for research:

  • Alvin (DSV-2) – human-occupied vehicle, the institution's most well-known equipment
  • Deepsea Challenger – human-occupied vehicle designed, field-tested, and later donated to the WHOI by Canadian film director James Cameron[29]
  • Jason – a remotely operated vehicle (ROV)
  • Sentry – an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and successor to ABE
  • Nereus – A hybrid remotely operated vehicle (HROV); lost on 5/10/14 while exploring the Kermadec Trench.[30]
  • Remus – Remote Environment Monitoring UnitS, a family of autonomous underwater vehicles
  • Mesobot - an autonomous underwater vehicle built to track sea life in the mesopelagic zone[31]
  • SeaBED – an autonomous underwater vehicle optimized for high-resolution seafloor imaging
  • Spray Glider – a remotely operated vehicle, used to collect data about the salinity, temperature, etc. about an area
  • Slocum Glider – another remotely operated vehicle, with functions similar to the functions of the Spray Glider
  • CAMPER – a towed vehicle used to collect samples from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean
  • Seasoar – a submarine towed by a ship
  • TowCam – a submarine with cameras that is towed by a ship along the ocean floor to take photographs
  • Video Plankton Recorder – a submarine with microscopic camera systems, towed along by a ship to take videos of plankton
  • Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE) – an autonomous underwater vehicle

Notable people

  • Lisan Yu – known for serving on the Earth Science Advisory Committee (ESAC), and on the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) committee of NASA.

See also



  1. ^ "Departments, Centers, and Labs". whoi.edu. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  2. ^ "Ensuring the future of ocean science". whoi.edu. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  3. ^ "MIT-WHOI Joint Program". Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  4. ^ "Accreditation - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution". WHOI. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  5. ^ "President and Director". whoi.edu. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Historical Photos". Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved August 29, 2023. {{cite web}}: External link in |ref= (help)
  7. ^ a b "History and Legacy". whoi.edu. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  8. ^ Thiesen, William H. (3 September 2020). "The Long Blue Line: Edward "Iceberg" Smith—Coast Guard's admiral of the ice!". U.S. Coast Guard. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  9. ^ "John Steele – obituary". The Telegraph. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  10. ^ In search of Air France Flight 447 Lawrence D. Stone Institute of Operations Research and the Management Sciences 2011
  11. ^ "Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution". ROARMAP: Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies. UK: University of Southampton. 6 April 2017. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Sekine, Sara (March 6, 2019). "Chinese hackers target North American and Asian universities". Nikkei Asian Review.
  13. ^ Niiler, Eric (February 14, 2024). "Scientists Resort to Once-Unthinkable Solutions to Cool the Planet". The Wall Street Journal. News Corp. Retrieved February 14, 2024.
  14. ^ "Contracts for July 20, 2018". U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  15. ^ "Contracts for July 30, 2018". U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  16. ^ "Contracts for September 29, 2020". U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  17. ^ "Contracts for April 22, 2019". U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
  18. ^ "B.H. Ketchum Award Recipients - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution". WHOI. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  19. ^ "Award Recipients - Henry Bryant Bigelow Medal in Oceanography". Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
  20. ^ "WHOI scientists recognized for outstanding achievement - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution". WHOI. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  21. ^ "Stan Hart Receives AGU's Highest Honor". WHOI. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  22. ^ Kujawinski, Elizabeth B; Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science and Engineering; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (2000). The effect of protozoan grazers on the cycling of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in marine systems. Mit/Whoi ;00-14. Cambridge, Mass.; Woods Hole, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology ; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. OCLC 682113775.
  23. ^ "Oil Spill Research : Chris Reddy's Lab". www.whoi.edu. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  24. ^ Revelle, Roger (1995). Alfred C. Redfield: A Biographical Memoir (PDF). Washington D.C.: National Academy of Sciences Press. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  25. ^ Musemeche,Catherine: Lethal Tides: Mary Sears and the Marine Scientists Who Helped Win World War II (Harper Collins) 2022
  26. ^ Sosik, Heidi M. "Heidi M. Sosik | Speaker | TED". www.ted.com. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  27. ^ "Klaus Hasselmann". Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  28. ^ "R/V Neil Armstrong - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution". WHOI. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  29. ^ "James Cameron Partners With WHOI". National Geographic. 26 March 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  30. ^ "Robotic Deep-sea Vehicle Lost on Dive to 6-Mile Depth". WHOI. May 10, 2014. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
  31. ^ #author.fullName}. "Stealthy marine robot begins studying mysterious deep-water life". New Scientist. Retrieved 2024-01-14. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)

41°31′28.26″N 70°40′15.50″W / 41.5245167°N 70.6709722°W / 41.5245167; -70.6709722