Ocean Exploration Timeline Title

1901 - 1950


Image of Scripps Institution of Oceanography logo


Scripps Institute

Scripps Institution of Oceanography becomes affiliated with the University of California. Scripps is one of the world's leading marine research centers and is located in La Jolla, California, just north of San Diego. This merger with the University of California allows the institute to expand its scope to include studies of the physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and climate of Earth.

Image of Reginald Fessenden using an oscillator
NOAA Public Domain Image

April 27, 1914

First Acoustic Exploration of the Sea Floor

Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden uses an oscillator to bounce sound waves between an iceberg and the sea floor. This test marks the beginning of acoustic exploration of the sea. This technology will eventually lead to the development of sonar, allowing submarines to signal each other and allowing ships to detect icebergs.

Image of the RMS Titanic
Wikipedia Public Domain Image

April 15, 1912

Titanic Sinks

The White Star Liner RMS Titanic sinks after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. Over 1,500 passengers lose their lives during one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history. This terrible tragedy leads to a concerted effort to devise an acoustic means of discovering objects in the water ahead of a moving vessel.


Image of the German survey ship Meteor
Wikipedia Public Domain Image


Mapping the Ocean Floor

The German vessel Meteor sails around the Atlantic Ocean taking detailed measurements of the ocean floor using echosounding equipment. These voyages reveal new information about the shape and structure of the ocean floor.


Image of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution logo


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is founded. This private, nonprofit higher education facility will eventually become one of the world's leading oceanographic research institutions.

Image of William Beebe and Otis Barton with their bathysphere
Wikipedia Public Domain Image


First Deep Ocean Dive

William Beebe and Otis Barton embark on a deep sea expedition in a tethered sphere known as a bathysphere. They reach a depth of a 3,000 feet (914 meters) off the coast of Bermuda and discover a previously unseen world of bizarre, luminescent creatures.

NOAA image of sonobuoy
NOAA Public Domain Image


Sonobuoy Developed

Researchers at the Coast and Geodetic Survey invent an automatic telemetering radio sonobuoy. This instrument eliminates the need for manned station ships during Radio Acoustic Ranging (RAR) navigation operations. This sonobuoy is considered to be the first offshore moored telemetering instruments. These buoys weigh 700 pounds (317.5 kg) and can be deployed or recovered by Coast and Geodetic Survey ships in only five minutes.


Bathythermograph Invented

Geophysicist and oceanographer Athelstan Spilhaus invents the bathythermograph. It is a is a small torpedo-shaped device that holds a temperature sensor and a transducer to detect changes in water temperature versus depth down to a depth of approximately 935 feet (285 meters). The invention's name stands the test of time, and is still in use today.

USGS image of a bathythermograph
USGS Public Domain Image
Image of a live Coelacanth
Bruce A.S.Henderson / CC BY-SA 4.0


Live Coelacanth Discovered

Fishermen off the coast of South Africa pull up a five-foot fish later identified as a coelacanth. This fish is a true living fossil thought to be extinct since the days of the dinosaurs. Since this discovery was made, several other live coelacanth have been discovered in African coastal waters and some have been photographed in their underwater habitat.



World War II Research

During World War II, electronic navigation systems are developed for precision bombing. A few years later, the Coast and Geodetic Survey conducts its first hydrographic surveys using these systems. Research during the war leads to many new tools for ocean exploration, including deep-ocean camera systems, early magnetometers, sidescan sonar instruments, and early technology for guiding Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs).

Image of the Aqua-Lung
Wikipedia Public Domain Image


The Aqua-Lung

Underwater explorers Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan develop the first modern scuba system. They modify a breathing regulator to create the Aqua-Lung. This ground breaking invention allows divers to stay underwater for extended periods and more effectively explore the ocean realm. This single event revolutionizes the science of underwater exploration.

Image of Auguste Piccard, inventer of the bathyscaphe
Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-13738
CC-BY-SA 3.0


First Untethered Deep Water Craft

Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard dives in his newly designed vehicle called a bathyscaphe. Known as FRNS-2, it is the first untethered craft to carry people into the deep waters of the ocean. It sets several world diving records, beating those of the bathyspheres, since no unwieldy cable is required for diving. Piccard's son, Jacques Piccard, would soon take the bathyscaphe to the deepest point in the ocean.