Ocean Exploration Timeline Title

1901 - 1970



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.

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. The technology will eventually lead to the development of sonar, allowing submarines to signal each other and allowing ships to detect icebergs.

April 15, 1912

Titanic Sinks

The White Star Liner Titanic sinks after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. Over 1500 passengers lose their lives during one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history. This tragedy leads to a concerted effort to devise an acoustic means of discovering objects in the water ahead of a moving vessel.



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.



Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is founded. Woods Hole would become one of the world's leading oceanographic research institutions.


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.


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 instrument is considered to be the first offshore moored telemetering instrument.


Bathythermograph Invented

Geophysicist and oceanographer Athelstan Spilhaus invents the bathythermograph, a measuring device that continuously records temperatures. The invention's name stands the test of time, and is still in use today.


Live Coelacanth Discovered

Fishermen off the coast of South Africa pull up a five-foot fish identified as a coelacanth, a living fossil thought to be extinct since the days of the dinosaurs. Since then, several live coelacanth have been discovered in African coastal waters.



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).


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.


First Untethered Deep Water Craft

Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard dives in his newly designed vehicle known as a bathyscaphe. It is the first untethered craft to carry people into the oceans deep waters. His son, Jacques Piccard, would soon take the bathyscaphe to the deepest point in the ocean.



Deepest Ocean Point Found

The British ship Challenger II bounces sound waves off the ocean bottom and locates what appears to be the sea's deepest point. Nearly seven miles down, it is subsequently named the Challenger Deep. Located off the coast of the Marianas Islands in the Pacific Ocean, the site is known today as the Marianas Trench. If you could put Mount Everest on the ocean floor in the Marianas Trench, its summit would lie about a mile below the ocean surface.


Discovery of Mid-Atlantic Ridge

American geologist Marie Tharp studies sounding profiles from the Atlantic Ocean and discovers a rift valley. Later studies reveal it to be a continuous rift valley extending over 40,000 nautical miles along the ocean floor. This discovery provides evidence for the newly formed theory of continental drift, known today as plate tectonics.

February 15, 1954

Untethered Submersible Dive Record

The French submersible FNRS-3 sets a new record for an untethered deep sea dive as she descends to a depth of 13,290 feet (4.050 meters). The historic dive takes place in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Senegal in West Africa.


Magnetic Striping Discovered

In a joint project with the U.S. Navy and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship Pioneer tows the first marine magnetometer and discovers magnetic striping on the sea floor off the west coast of the United States. This discovery proves that the sea floor is spreading, providing significant credibility to the theory of plate tectonics.


January 23, 1960

Deepest Ocean Dive

Jacques Piccard, son of explorer August Piccard, and two other men descend into the ocean to a depth of 35,797 feet, nearly seven miles. They make the trip in the Trieste, a sturdy underwater vehicle known as a bathyscaphe. Trieste was designed by Piccard and built several years earlier. The divers discover fish and other amazing deep-sea life at these tremendous depths.


Tow System Developed

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography begins development of the Deep Tow System. This sonar system becomes the forerunner of all remotely-operated and unmanned oceanographic systems today.


First Underwater Habitat

Several experiments are conducted whereby people live in underwater habitats. The researchers leave the habitat for exploration and return again for food, sleep, and relaxation. The habitats are supplied by compressed air from the surface. In the first such experiment, Conshelf (Continental Shelf) One, Jacques Cousteau and his team spend seven days under 33 feet of water near Marseilles, France, in a habitat they name Diogenes.


First Multibeam Sounding

The first operational multibeam sounding system is installed on the USNS Compass Island. This system observes a number of soundings to the left and right of a ship's head as well as vertically. This allows the development of a relatively accurate map of the sea floor as the ship proceeds on a survey line.


Deep Sea Submersible Alvin

Alvin, a new deep submergence vehicle, is constructed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. It is the first U.S. deep diving submersible and the first deep-sea submersible capable of carrying passengers. Later that year, Alvin explores the Cayman Trough, the deepest point in the Caribbean Sea. Alvin becomes one of the most famous deep sea vehicles, making over 4,000 dives during its lifetime.


First Underwater Robot

The Navy develops Halibut, a submarine that can lower miles of cables bearing lights, cameras, and other gear to spy on enemy armaments and material lost on the bottom of the sea.

August, 1968

Deep Sea Drilling Program

The deep sea research vessel Glomar Challenger departs on a 15 year expedition known as the Deep Sea Drilling Program. The ship criss-crosses the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Africa and South America taking core samples. The ages of the samples are provides solid evidence for the theory of seafloor spreading, which would eventually give rise to the modern theory of plate tectonics.

July 14, 1969

First Long Duration Submersible Expedition

A manned underwater vehicle known as the Ben Franklin spends 30 days submerged off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida. A six-member crew led by the vehicle's creator, Jacques Piccard, study the Gulf Stream and travel a distance of 1,444 miles (2,324 km). The voyage also serves to study the effects of long-term, continuous close confinement for long space flights.


October, 1970

NOAA Established

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is established. This U.S. Government agency is responsible for all U.S. weather and climate forecasting, monitoring and archiving of ocean and atmospheric data, management of marine fisheries and mammals, mapping and charting of all U.S. waters, coastal zone management, and research and development in all of these areas.