CORVALLIS, Ore. – A special conference at Oregon State University on May 14-15 will focus on the emergence of oceanography in the mid-20th century as a critically important science. The event coincides with the 50th anniversary of oceanography at OSU.

Naomi Oreskes, a noted historian of science known for her role in demonstrating scientific consensus on climate change, will give the keynote address. Her talk, “The Crucial Experiment that Wasn’t: Acoustic Tomography of Ocean Climate,” will begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, in the Memorial Union Journey Room at OSU. All of the events at the conference are free and open to the public.

The conference, “American Oceanography at Mid-Century,” will examine how oceanography emerged in the 1950s and 1960s as an important discipline. Speakers from several institutions around the country and abroad will present sessions on Friday, May 15 (also at the MU Journey Room), on topics including:

•the role of upwelling in biological production;
•deep-sea biology;
•the impact of World War II on American oceanography;
•the importance of waves;
•the sea as a frontier.

Craig Biegel, a scientist from Florida State University, will open the May 15 session with a presentation titled “A Visionary at Work – Wayne V. Burt, the Early Years at Oregon State University,” in which he describes the origins of oceanography at OSU and one of the pioneers who helped establish the nationally recognized program at the university.

The presentation by Oreskes will explore a mid-1990s experiment called Acoustic Tomography of Ocean Climate that aspired to provide definite proof of global warming by demonstrating the warming of the oceans. But that experiment was stopped by environmentalists who thought it would harm marine mammals. Public comments later suggested that the credibility of science was in question – in part, Oreskes argues, because scientists who spent much of their career studying the ocean for its military implications were not always believable when presenting data on environmental and ecological issues.

Though Cold War military support led to a number of fundamental advances in understanding the ocean environment, she says, it also left lasting legacies that were not easily overcome.

Oreskes is a provost at the University of California-San Diego. She is known for a 2004 paper published in Science that demonstrated scientists are in broad agreement about the reality of anthropogenic global warming. The paper has been widely cited in the media, as well as the film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The conference is sponsored by the Horning Endowment in the Humanities and the OSU Department of History, and supported by the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. The conference schedule is available online at:

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Elissa Curcio,