UNOLS Turns 50!

Jan 13, 2021
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2021 marks 50 years of UNOLS!  

How did UNOLS begin?  Discussions around UNOLS began back in the 1960s, when there we unprecedented growth in Marine Science.  Labs were expanding, more research ships were putting to sea and ships were increasing in size.  Soon a few key issues came to light.  Investigators from non-operating labs were struggling to get access to ship time and Federal supporting agencies were concerned over the increasing costs of the vessels each with differing modes of operations.  

The1969 President's Commission on Marine Science and Engineering (Stratton Commisssion) recommended forming National Oceanographic Laboratories (NOLs) to coordinate the efforts under the federal umbrella.  A joint group of federal and university administrators worked out a proposal for a University-NOLS which achieved the goals of community wide ship access, cooperative ship scheduling, standardized operations, and uniform funding arrangements.  In this model, operational responsibility remained within institutions while the coordination fell to an association of institutions designated as UNOLS.

UNOLS was officially launched at its charter meeting in 1971 by seventeen ship operating institutions. The initial thrust was development of ship scheduling and investigator placement procedures. This was followed by more uniform operations and reporting.  UNOLS quickly brought in non-ship operating insitutions to increase the influence of scientists from non-operating institutions

Since inception, other efforts developed standards for shipboard equipment and technical services, mission requirements for new ship planning, and shipboard safety standards. National Oceanographic Facilities were established as well as other equipment and data facilities to meet the needs of oceanographic science.  

As UNOLS has evolved over the years to meet changes and challenges, its role remains the same as was first envisioned; to coordinate facilitate and serve the U.S. Academic Research Fleet.  More details of the history of UNOLS can be found here:

The UNOLS office will be celebrating UNOLS and the U.S. Academic Research Fleet throughout the year.   Contributions are welcome!  Please send any photos or stories to share to