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Sea Grant has Minnesota Roots

Mike McDonald

On March 6 President Clinton signed legislation reauthorizing the National Sea Grant College Program for another five years. This legislation, which was passed unanimously by Congress, authorizes an increase of nearly $8 million next year and $1 million each year after that, for a total of $60 million in fiscal year 2003.

You may not know it, but the idea for Sea Grant came from Athelstan Spilhaus while he was dean of the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology. In a 1963 keynote address at a meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Spilhaus suggested that in order to promote a better relationship between academic, state, federal, and industrial institutions involved in fisheries, we should do what “wise men” had done in the 1800s to promote better cultivation of the land. They had created Land Grant colleges...Spilhaus suggested creating Sea Grant colleges.

Spilhaus’ idea was taken up by legislators Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island and Representative Paul Rogers of Florida and was authorized by Congressional legislation in 1966. The first four universities designated as Sea Grant colleges were Oregon State University, the University of Rhode Island, Texas A&M University, and the University of Washington. The University of Minnesota became a Sea Grant College in 1974.

Research, outreach, and education are the main functions of Minnesota Sea Grant. The program provides a critical link to University research that makes it possible for us to provide unbiased information to decision-makers.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first Sea Grant research awards. Since 1968, Sea Grant has awarded thousands of grants for marine and coastal science research, education, and outreach, passing the $1 billion grant award mark in 1997.

A 1987 analysis estimated that Sea Grant-sponsored research and outreach provided a 20:1 return on the federal government’s investment.

Sadly, Sea Grant’s originator, Athelstan Spilhaus, died on March 29, at age 86. Spilhaus came to the United States in 1931 from his home in Cape Town, South Africa. With a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and a doctorate in oceanography, Spilhaus was best known for oceanographic and meteorological research and for his contributions to the development of meteorological equipment like the bathythermograph, which he invented to measure temperatures in the deep ocean. Spilhaus was also one of the first people to advocate the use of skywalks and tunnels in cities with severe weather, like Minneapolis.

As technology dean at the University of Minnesota, Spilhaus was outspoken in his support of science education and innovative scientific research. Sea Grant lives on as a legacy of Spilhaus’ love of scientific research.

I am heartened by the amount of continued bipartisan support for the Sea Grant program. I think it shows that we are doing our job.

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Mike McDonald
Minnesota Sea Grant Director

By Mike McDonald
June 1998

Return to June 1998 Seiche

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