Webb Receives 2017 Ocean Sciences Award

Douglas Webb will receive the 2017 Ocean Sciences Award at the 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 11–15 December in New Orleans, La. The award is given in recognition of “outstanding leadership or service to the ocean sciences.”


Doug arrived at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in 1962. Soon after, with encouragement from Henry Stommel, he began to explore the possibility of using the global deep sound or SOFAR channel to deploy and track neutrally buoyant floats over 1,000-kilometer distances. This wasn’t just an exciting idea; it was a revolutionary concept. Twenty SOFAR floats were deployed to great success to study the mesoscale eddy field in the Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment (MODE) in 1973. Many SOFAR float studies followed, including one to tag and track a Mediterranean salt lens for 3 years. During those years, many cutting-edge technologies emerged from Doug’s lab including the vector-averaging current meter (VACM) and the Neil Brown CTD.

The next major leap was the Autonomous Lagrangian Circulation Explorer (ALACE), which he initiated with Russ Davis at Scripps Institution. Conceived originally as a nonacoustic Lagrangian float, it evolved into the profiling Argo float, with nearly 4,000 of these deployed around the world profiling temperature and salinity every 10 days. The Argo float has been truly transformative; we now want to reach deeper and profile chemistry and biology as well!

Doug also is the godfather of the glider, another transformative platform that uses variations in buoyancy for its horizontal propulsion. Equipped with CTDs and other sensors, it glides through the ocean sampling the vertical and horizontal structure of the top kilometer of the ocean. The interest in these tools compelled Doug to start his own company; it was so successful he was bought out! There is no mistaking Doug’s contributions to modern observational oceanography. Through his own work and through his leadership, Doug Webb has played a truly central role in the development of the vast array of tools we have today for probing the global ocean water column.


—Tom Rossby, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett


I am grateful to the AGU Ocean Sciences section for this award, and to Tom Rossby, a valued colleague and friend since the mid-1960s, for his kind words in his citation.

Bringing to life new tools for global ocean observation involves many people from laboratories and research centers around the world. In receiving this award, I wish to acknowledge the contribution of them all. They include the designers and builders of the tools and the scientists who accepted the risk of using novel instruments. For junior scientists, whose futures depend on reliable and useful results, this is a special risk.

Of all these colleagues, I would particularly like to note the importance of Henry Stommel’s enthusiasm and support for the development of many ideas over the course of 3 decades.

Thank you for this wonderful award for a lifetime of fun and challenging work.


—Douglas Webb, Teledyne Webb Research, North Falmouth, Mass.