June 1903

UC Berkeley zoologist William E. Ritter conducts a summer field session in marine biology at a temporary laboratory in the boathouse of the Hotel del Coronado. Visitors include members of the Scripps family, who take an interest in Ritter’s science and voice support for a permanent marine station in San Diego.

Early Leaders

September 1903

Ritter, retired newspaper tycoon E.W. Scripps, philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, physician Fred Baker, and community leaders charter the Marine Biological Association of San Diego, predecessor of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Ritter is appointed director with a mandate to perform a biological and hydrographic survey of the coastal waters adjacent to Southern California.


Scripps' First Lab

April 1905

The Marine Biological Association of San Diego is granted free occupancy of property on Point La Jolla. Scripps’ first dedicated laboratory is built there at a cost of $992, raised by public subscription. The “Little Green Lab” includes the institution’s first public aquarium exhibit.


Ocean Data Gathering Begins


Physicist George McEwen begins gathering data on ocean temperatures, tides, and currents. In the decades that follow, he attempts to make long-term weather forecasts based on records of sea-surface temperatures.



Charles A. Kofoid, Ritter’s deputy, tours biological stations in Europe. He acquires instruments and gathers information on facilities toward plans for construction of a marine biology station in San Diego.

Ellen Browning Scripps

February 1909

Ellen Browning Scripps (“Miss Ellen”) adds a codicil to her will bequeathing $150,000 to the Regents of the University of California to support the work of the marine biological laboratory, to be permanently located in La Jolla.


George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory


The George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory opens. The first permanent marine science facility in the western hemisphere is dedicated to the memory of Miss Ellen’s brother.


Scripps Joins the Universtiy of California

July 1912

The Marine Biological Association of San Diego deeds its property for $10 to the UC Regents and becomes the Scripps Institution for Biological Research of the University of California, formally becoming part of the UC system.


scripps memorial pier


Cottages are built at Scripps to serve as "temporary" residences for faculty, staff, and visitors.  Miss Ellen signs contracts valued at more than $30,000 for construction of other campus facilities, including the first Scripps pier. The first dedicated public aquarium is built, and a library and museum are constructed.  In the midst of this building boom, Miss Ellen announces an additional gift to the Institution of $100,000.

Francis B. Sumner


Francis B. Sumner joins Scripps and begins a 17-year study of environmental influences on the heredity of field mice. Sumner’s “Mouse House” experiments are a critical study of natural selection.


Scripps Institution for Biological Research Formally Dedicated

August 1916

The Scripps Institution for Biological Research is formally dedicated. Speakers of the day include UC President Benjamin I. Wheeler and Stanford President David Starr Jordan.


Thomas Wayland Vaughan

February 1924

Geologist Thomas Wayland Vaughan becomes the second director of Scripps. He envisions a world-class oceanographic institution with broadened programs in research and education.


Scripps Campus

October 1925

The UC Regents formally confer the name Scripps Institution of Oceanography, indicating Scripps’ progress from biological field station to oceanographic institution.


Ritter Hall


The $120,000 cost to build Ritter Hall is split three ways: among Miss Ellen, the State of California, and the Rockefeller Foundation—Scripps’ first foundation grant.


Harald Ulrik Sverdrup

September 1936

Norwegian oceanographer Harald Ulrik Sverdrup becomes the third director, pledging to make Scripps a seagoing institution.


R/V E.W. Scripps

December 1937

Robert Paine Scripps buys a 104-foot schooner for Scripps. It is named E.W. SCRIPPS in honor of his father. The seagoing ship allows the institution to undertake research cruises along the California coast and out to sea.


Gulf of California Expedition

February-March 1939

Scripps scientists launch the Gulf of California Expedition, the first of two cruises to conduct a pioneering hydrographic survey of the gulf, taking Scripps beyond the coastal waters adjacent to Southern California for the first time.



Scientists begin research on sonar at Point Loma. Martin Johnson identifies snapping shrimp as the source of widespread underwater noise and applies his discovery to submarine detection. Harald Sverdrup and Walter Munk train military officers in meteorology and surf/tide forecasting for amphibious landings.  


The Oceans Textbook


The first comprehensive oceanography textbook, The Oceans: Their Physics, Chemistry and General Biology, is published. Written by Harald Sverdrup, Richard Fleming, and Martin Johnson, it is still considered the bible of oceanography.



Ichthyologist Carl Hubbs begins collecting fishes from the Southern California region. In the early 1950s the fish collection, established by aquarium director Percy Barnhart, grows as the Scripps fleet deploys the new Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl. In 1958 Richard Rosenblatt is appointed curator and adds specimens from all regions. The collection now contains more than 2 million specimens.


January 1945

On active duty for the Navy, Scripps scientist Roger Revelle leads the oceanographic and geophysical components of Operation Crossroads, the first postwar atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. Other Scripps observers include Walter Munk, Martin Johnson, and Marston Sargent.


July 1946

The newly formed Office of Naval Research (ONR) agrees to provide funds for geographical investigations, laboratory and seagoing experiments, and analysis and compilation of data. ONR will provide enormous support for Scripps programs in the decades to come.



With Navy support, Scripps acquires a modern seagoing fleet, consisting of the research vessels Horizon, Crest, Paolina-T, and Spencer F. Baird.



Physicist Carl Eckart, formerly of University of California Division of War Research (UCDWR) and first head of the Marine Physical Laboratory (MPL), is appointed fourth director of Scripps. MPL becomes part of the institution.



The California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigation (CalCOFI) is launched at Scripps by state and federal agencies to solve the mystery of the declining sardine fishery. Over the following 50 years, CalCOFI becomes the most comprehensive examination of a coastal environment ever undertaken. It continues to collect data on the physical oceanography and marine biology of the California Current.



Scripps researchers pioneer the study of kelp forest ecology. Mike Neushul and Wheeler North launch underwater surveys of kelp beds. Research conducted from the 1970s by Paul Dayton and Mia Tegner reveals the depletion of kelp forest resources.

October 1950

The Thomas Wayland Vaughan Aquarium-Museum is completed. “Scripps Aquarium” becomes the institution’s window to the ocean world and a San Diego landmark.

July-October 1950

MidPac, the first Scripps expedition to the deep Pacific, contributes to new understanding of oceanic processes and seafloor geology. Scripps makes headlines with the discovery of the mid-Pacific mountains. Studies of heat flow conducted by Roger Revelle, Sir Edward C. Bullard, and Arthur E. Maxwell raise fundamental questions that are eventually answered by plate-tectonic theory.


July 1951

Roger Revelle is appointed the fifth director of Scripps. A former Scripps graduate student, acting professor, and naval reserve officer, Revelle acquires new ships from the Navy and personally leads a number of major expeditions.



UC physicist Hugh Bradner develops one of the world's first wet suits. Bradner later joins the Scripps faculty and his neoprene suit is tested by several Scripps divers during scuba training classes run by the institution.


Movie legend Errol Flynn and Scripps zoologist Carl Hubbs film The Cruise of the Zaca, a travelogue about their 1946 cruise to Baja, California. The campy documentary publicizes Hubbs’s study of marine mammals and his advocacy for protection of the California gray whale.


July 1956

Scripps launches an atmospheric carbon dioxide monitoring program for the International Geophysical Year. Revelle recruits Charles David Keeling to head the program. His measurements, compiled on the dramatic “Keeling Curve,” provide the first evidence of CO2 buildup, a major factor in global warming.


July 1958

The UC Regents endorse a Revelle-led proposal for a San Diego campus adjacent to Scripps.



Geologist Bob Fisher confirms the deepest point in the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench near Guam (~10,915 m). Deep-submergence pioneer Andy Rechnitzer directs the Navy's successful effort to reach the bottom of the trench in the bathyscaphe Trieste.


November 1960

On November 18, 1960, the UC Board of Regents establishes a San Diego campus of the University of California. Scripps Institution of Oceanography begins to confer degrees through the new UC San Diego.



The National Academy of Sciences launches Project Mohole. Revelle, Munk, Harry Hess, Bill Riedel, Willard Bascom, and others are the first to attempt to drill into Earth’s mantle from a ship dynamically positioned over the deep seafloor. This astonishing feat is reported by Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.


After 10 years as director, Roger Revelle steps down to become a national advocate for the role of science in public policy. He lectures at Harvard, represents the government in overseas development projects, advises Washington, and teaches at UC San Diego.


Fred Spiess is appointed interim director of Scripps. A physicist, engineer, and oceanographer, he plays a key role in the development of new technologies for deep-sea exploration.

Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP)

October 1961

The research platform FLIP, designed by Fred Spiess, Fred Fisher, and Philip Rudnick, joins the Scripps fleet. Developed for a single Navy research experiment in submarine acoustics, the unorthodox craft proves highly dependable and remains in service today.


Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP)

August 1962

The La Jolla laboratory of the UC Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics is dedicated, with Walter Munk its first director. Programs developed at the institute include the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate experiment and Project IDA, a global seismic and nuclear test monitoring network.


Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES)

May 1964

Scripps is one of four institutions to form JOIDES, the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling. The consortium's mission is to promote deep sea drilling research.


William A. Nierenberg

July 1965

William A. Nierenberg becomes the seventh director of Scripps. During his 22-year tenure, the institution is marked by unparalleled expansion in research programs and faculty. Under Nierenberg, oceanography at Scripps enters the space age and joins the computer revolution.

SeaLab II

August-October 1965

The Navy's SeaLab II manned underwater habitat operates for 45 days off Scripps at a depth of 205 feet. From the seafloor, astronaut turned aquanaut Scott Carpenter talks to Gordon Cooper, who is orbiting Earth in Gemini V.


May 1966

The Chester W. Nimitz Marine Facility is established on Point Loma property given to Scripps by the Navy. It becomes homeport to the Scripps fleet. The modern oceanographic research vessel Thomas Washington and the "floating biological laboratory" Alpha Helix are commissioned.


Scripps receives a $13.6 million contract from the National Science Foundation for the initial Deep Sea Drilling Project.  A three-year extension adds $22.2 million, and contracts eventually exceed $35 million.  More than 40 years of deep-sea drilling provide scientists invaluable seafloor core samples which revolutionize scientific thinking about the history of Earth and the character of the seafloor.


1968 - 1981

Jerome Namias of the U.S. Weather Bureau joins Scripps to develop the Climate Research Group.  Using long-term atmospheric and buoy data, Namias correlates temperature change across North America with sea-surface changes in the North Pacific. Namias and others conduct the North Pacific Experiment (NORPAX) throughout the 1970s.


March 1971

The Geochemical Oceans Section Study (GEOSECS), a multi-institutional program to oceans, is launched.  Participants include pioneer geochemists Harmon Craig and Ray Weiss of Scripps.


October 1975

Emperor Hirohito of Japan visits Scripps.



Using the towed camera platform DeepTow, Scripps geologist Peter Lonsdale discovers new marine life forms in the Galapagos Rift, including large clams and crabs, during the first photographic survey of a hydrothermal vent field. On the same cruise, Scripps geochemist Ray Weiss uses DeepTow to collect samples proving the hydrothermal origin of this water. 


January 1979

R/V New Horizon joins the fleet.  It is Scripps's first state-funded and custom-designed oceanographic research vessel.


During the RISE expedition to the east Pacific, Fred Spiess and others are the first to discover both a sub-seafloor magma chamber and black smokers rising from a hydrothermal field.  They take photographs using the deep-diving sumbersible Alvin and DeepTow, an unmanned vehicle.

October 1979

Scripps's satellite facility is dedicated, marking the institution's official launch into the realm of space-age oceanography.

1979 - 1982

The George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory is renovated and designated a National Historic Landmark.  It houses the Scripps Graduate Department and other business offices.


1980s - Present

Climate research expands to encompass a broad array of interdepartmental programs.  Scripps becomes a leader in the study of environmental changes associated with global warming and its impact.



Scripps's R/V Melville takes part in the multi-institutional OASIS Expedition.  Aboard a deep-diving submersible, Scripps biologist Robert Hessler collects new organisms he discovers on an undersea volcano.


February 1983

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of England visit Scripps.


July 1986

Physicist Edward A. Frieman becomes the eighth director.  During his tenure, Scripps partners with national and international agencies to launch the World Ocean Circulation Experiment and the Central Equatorial Pacific Ocean Experiment.


June 1988

The Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier is dedicated, replacing the 70-year-old original.  Daily water sampling from the piers provides the longest continuous sea-surface temperature record in the world.


September 1992

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps opens.  Construction is funded largely through a $6 million grant from the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation.  A preeminent regional public educational facility, its mission is to increase understanding of the oceans and to foster public support for Scripps research.


April 1995

R/V Roger Revelle is launched at Moss Point, Miss. Ellen Revelle, wife of the former director, christens the 277-foot namesake. Scripps's flagship is among the largest and most capable of modern oceanographic vessels.

September 1995

The National Research Council ranks Scripps first in faculty quality among oceanography graduate programs.


August 1996

Geosciences researcher and faculty member Wolfgang Berger is named interim director of Scripps. He fosters educational outreach within the San Diego community.


January 1997

Scripps climate researchers led by Nick Graham make the first successful prediction of a specific El Niño event. Public agencies and private enterprises that heed the warning are better prepared for destructive winter storms.

June 1997

President Bill Clinton visits the Birch Aquarium at Scripps.


February 1998

Charles F. Kennel becomes the ninth director of Scripps. The physicist and former NASA administrator solidifies the institution’s role as a leader in Earth science research and global environmental monitoring.


September 2003

Scripps Institution of Oceanography celebrates its centennial, embarking upon a second century of exploration, guided by its mission to seek, teach, and communicate scientific understanding of the oceans, atmosphere, Earth, and other planets for the benefit of society and the environment.


October 2006

Chemist Tony Haymet becomes Scripps's tenth director.


March 2009

The Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and Society (Scripps Seaside Forum) opens as new conference and special event facility at the heart of the Scripps campus. It is named for the son of Scripps Oceanography founder E.W. Scripps and nephew of patroness Ellen Browning Scripps, Robert Paine Scripps (1895-1938) was born and spent his life in the San Diego area.

March 2009

Scripps Oceanography and the family of the late legendary statesman of science Roger Revelle honor Revelle's 100th birthday. Events recognize the UC San Diego founder and former Scripps director's lifetime achievements and award Al Gore with the inaugural Roger Revelle Prize. Revelle was a world-renowned scientist and is considered one of the true pioneers of climate change research.

November 2009

His Serene Highness Prince Albert, Head of State and Sovereign Prince of Monaco, visits Scripps and receives the Roger Revelle Prize for his efforts to support and communicate scientific research and protection of the environment on a global scale. The Prince’s visit also celebrated future collaboration between Scripps Oceanography and Monaco on ocean acidification research.


Rendering of AGOR 28

May 2010

The Office of Naval Research selects Scripps Oceanography as the operator of a new scientific research vessel. Specifically designed to operate globally, the "Ocean Class" research vessel Sally Ride (AGOR 28) will support both U.S. Navy and national oceanographic research objectives.


June 2011

American Physical Society (APS) adds Scripps Institution of Oceanography to its register of historic sites for the work that began there that came to be known as the Keeling Curve. A plaque is mounted at Ritter Hall, the building housing many of the original instruments Keeling invented to make ultraprecise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations beginning in 1957.


June 2012

Scripps Oceanography's one-of-a-kind FLoating Instrument Platform (FLIP) turns 50. Launched in 1962, FLIP remains a hallmark of distinction for both Scripps and the Office of Naval Research, owners of FLIP.

October 2012

Catherine Constable of Scripps's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics becomes acting director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Margaret Leinen

October 2013

Margaret Leinen becomes director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Scripps Oceanography MESOM building

April 2014

The new Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) Laboratory becomes the first building at UC San Diego to be awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating by the United States Green Building Council.