Scripps Institution of Oceanography
2021 Annual Impact Report

From the Director

Margaret Leinen

In 2021, the community at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography continued to showcase its resilience and reawakened after a mostly virtual 2020. Our academic research fleet safely returned to sea, Birch Aquarium reopened to the public, students and faculty came back for in-person and hybrid learning, and our research continued to make an impact. 

Scripps Oceanography’s thoughtful return to research, education, and outreach on campus is important because making an impact is key to our mission. For the first time we are recognizing this by initiating an annual impact report rather than a report that attempts to provide an overview of all that we do. Observing and understanding our environment is vitally important, but this year I’ve also been proud of how that research is benefiting our public health, the protection of our environment, and our work toward a more equitable and diverse community. 

Our 2021 impact report aims to highlight outcomes of our activity. We’ve showcased research underway to understand the impact of an environmental tragedy, the effect climate change is having on our health and the health of our planet, and the discovery of potentially life-saving drugs from the sea—a new treatment made possible thanks to the tenacity and work of Scripps marine chemists over the past several decades. We’ve highlighted some of our stellar alumni, who are making waves around the world through their work on marine conservation, space research, environmental science, journalism, building sustainable cities, and more. I’m also incredibly proud to see the results from concerted efforts to improve the diversity of the Scripps community; this fall we welcomed the largest and most diverse graduate class in our history. While continuing to diversify, we are committed to building a more inclusive and equitable community at Scripps Oceanography.

Thank you to our supporters, students, staff, and faculty for being the driving force behind this impact.


Margaret Leinen
Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences, UC San Diego
Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography 


Maxine Baker
Mary Ann Beyster
Paul Brooks
Julia Brown
James L. Cairns
Bernard David
Patty Elkus
Sheldon Engelhorn
Tim Gallaudet
Cindy Glancy
Rodney H. Glover
Stuart Goode
Richard Gulley
Richard Hertzberg
James Jameson
Wayne Kennedy
Dona Lucas
Dennis McGinn
John “Mac” McQuown
Chyrsa Mineo
Elizabeth Oliver
Tom Page
John Patton
David Price
Margaret Scripps Klenzing
Dixon Smith
Mike Stone
Stephen Strachan (Chair)
J. Craig Venter
Caroline Winn
Dawn Wright

Research highlights

Water Resilience in a Changing Climate

The growing volatility in California's climate, fluctuating between intense atmospheric rivers and long dry periods between storms, increases the state's needs for water resilience and improved water reliability.

In response, the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps is working closely with water managers on a program called Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations. This program uses modern forecasting methods fueled by advances in understanding and predicting atmospheric rivers to give reservoir operators better decision-making tools to optimize water resources. The advanced forecasts can help water managers make decisions to retain water if no additional storms are forecast, or release it to mitigate the risk of flooding. 

A panaromic shot of Lake Mendocino

At Sonoma County’s Lake Mendocino, this program enabled a nearly 20 percent increase in water storage. At Prado Dam in Riverside, Calif., which supplies water to Orange County, an assessment found that enough water could be conserved to supply an additional 60,000 people per year.

Separately, scientists from Scripps and UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy are using advanced satellite data to map the “pulse” of groundwater flow through the San Joaquin Valley, the southern portion of the Central Valley. Groundwater is a key resource for water users in this major agricultural hub.  

Scripps’ Morgan Levy, Wesley Neely, and Adrian Borsa studied how recent advances in remote sensing via satellites and GPS enabled the detailed mapping of surface deformation and associated changes in groundwater resources. Their March 2021 study is the first to look at where and when the groundwater in the region is being recharged. This recharge causes the surface to rise, as the aquifer swells due to the increased volume of stored water.

The findings are particularly timely as California implements its Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to better understand and protect its groundwater resources

The Lasting Impact of a Coastal Dumpsite

Investigative reporting by the Los Angeles Times reinvigorated public outcry that the coast off Los Angeles once served as a dumping ground for the pesticide DDT and other toxic chemicals.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Eric Terrill led an expedition in March 2021 on research vessel Sally Ride to survey the seafloor using autonomous underwater vehicles.

The sonar data collected on the expedition soon became overwhelming, and the team turned to machine learning to develop an algorithm to tally the barrel-like targets. They mapped more than 27,000 targets with high confidence to be classified as a barrel, and an excess of 100,000 total debris objects (and this is just at one of two known dumpsites).

As the extent of this environmental tragedy unfolds, Scripps scientists are on a quest to understand the effect of this DDT in the marine ecosystem and determine how to best mitigate the problem.

This summer, Scripps chemical oceanographer Lihini Aluwihare collected samples of pelagic organisms during a California Current Ecosystem LTER expedition, visiting the dumpsite that Terrill had surveyed earlier. Aluwihare, along with Scripps biological oceanographer Anela Choy, will investigate which organisms may be transferring DDT from the seafloor up through the marine food web. Scientists also hope to look at Scripps’ decades-old archive of marine specimens in the CalCOFI and marine vertebrate collection to see when DDT concentrations began appearing.

Scripps’ Lisa Levin, Paul Jensen, and Greg Rouse also collected marine specimens and sediment samples near six barrels last summer, on a Schmidt Ocean Foundation expedition aboard R/V Falkor. Sponges, microorganisms, and other invertebrates living on barrels were slurped up by a remotely operated vehicle. They hope to evaluate these specimens to determine what role microbes might play in potentially bioremediating, or consuming, the chemicals coming out of the barrels.

View the full scope of Scripps-led efforts to study the coastal dumpsite.

Position:  , Bearing:  , Pitch:  , Zoom:  

Drugs from the Sea:
Compounds from Marine Bacteria as Treatments for Brain Cancer and COVID-19

Scripps Oceanography is home to a large collection of marine bacteria, and the compounds derived from this collection are the focus of marine drug discovery for researchers with the Center for Marine Biomedicine and Biotechnology.

Cyanobacteria in William Gerwick's lab

Scripps researchers have discovered hundreds of bioactive natural products, and in 2021 development of drugs from the sea continues to advance. Chemist Bill Fenical and microbiologist Paul Jensen collected a microbe from sediments of the tropical Atlantic Ocean in 1990. A compound produced by the microbe is now in the final phase of clinical trials, being tested on patients with the brain cancer glioblastoma. The compound, now named Marizomib, demonstrates the unique ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier to target the aggressive cancer.

Additionally, a marine cyanobacterium from Panama is showing potential as a COVID-19 therapeutic. Marine chemist William Gerwick says the cyanobacterium, called “mermaid's hair” because of its red, filament-like structure, yielded a compound named gallinamide A that shows profound activity against a human enzyme called cathepsin L. The SARS-Cov-2 virus uses cathepsin L as one of two pathways to infect cells and replicate. By combining gallinamide A with another compound they are finding a potentially effective way to block both pathways by which the virus enters cells. The testing of these compounds continues with support from the National Institutes of Health. If successful, the compounds could help treat COVID-19 infections.

Advocating for Aerosols in Fight Against COVID-19

Kimberly Prather is an atmospheric chemist who has spent her career studying aerosols, including conducting studies measuring the thousands of miles aerosol particles can travel around the globe. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear to Prather and an international team of experts that the predominant way people were becoming infected was through the air—yet this airborne transmission pathway was not being acknowledged by public health agencies.

Kimberly Prather works with students and staff to assemble do-it-yourself air filtration boxes

Prather co-authored several high-profile publications, including a letter to the Biden Administration, calling for immediate action to address and limit transmission of COVID-19 via inhalation exposure. She has also advised local and federal government officials, school districts, and the public at large on how to safely re-open, with a focus on cleaning the air. As campus reopened this fall, she spearheaded an effort to assemble do-it-yourself air filtration boxes to be distributed in lecture halls and the Preuss School to add another layer of defense against the airborne spread of the virus.

Climate Change Research

As humankind faces catastrophic changes in climate patterns, sea level, ocean acidity, public health, and ecosystems due to climate change, Scripps Oceanography scientists are on the leading edge of research to observe how our planet is changing, understand these impacts, and work to find science-inspired solutions.

Environmental Injustice Increases Stillbirth: Scientists found links between extreme heat and a heightened incidence of stillbirths and preterm births in relatively poor countries, in the first assessment of extreme heat events and adverse birth outcomes. Scripps’ Tarik Benmarhnia, Sasha Gershunov and Anna Dimitrova used global meteorological data and compared it to available health survey information in 14 low- and middle-income countries. They found a strong correlation between extreme heat events endured in the last week of pregnancy and women’s risk of adverse birth outcomes. More on this study >

“Heat Bombs” Destroying Arctic Ice: A team of physical oceanographers led by Jennifer MacKinnon discovered plumes of warm water flowing into the Arctic Ocean from the Pacific Ocean and accelerating sea ice melt from below. Their research describes these underwater “heat bombs” as one mechanism by which global warming is changing the Arctic Ocean faster than nearly any other place on Earth. The discovery was enabled by instruments developed by Scripps’ Multiscale Ocean Dynamics group that capture high-resolution profiles and complex ocean processes in fine detail. More about 'heat bombs' >

Defining Geoengineering Consequences: A team led by Kate Ricke, assistant professor at Scripps and the School of Global Policy and Strategy, modeled a hypothetical solution to a real drought that had plagued Africa’s Sahel region in the 1970s and 80s. The computational model they used found that proposed artificial upwelling that could lead to a solution to the Sahel’s drought also caused drought in sub-Saharan East Africa. The study is considered to be one of the few to consider regional-scale geoengineering schemes and identify specific consequences. More on this simulation >

Tracking Cliff Collapse: Thanks to funding from a new bill in California, Scripps will lead research that aims to better understand the timing of bluff collapses and help inform recommendations towards the development of a potential early landslide warning system. The research will include expanded  LiDAR surveys of coastal bluffs and the development of new geotechnical monitoring technology to measure microscopic-scale changes to slope stability. Read more about the new bill >

Scripps by the Numbers


Adapting Virtually, Welcoming Visitors Back

While Birch Aquarium was temporarily closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic for much of 2020, it reopened in February 2021 for an outdoor experience, and then more broadly but at a limited capacity in the spring. Even at limited capacity, the aquarium came within 12 percent of historical record attendance numbers this summer. 

Birch Aquarium Educators teaching a virtual class.

The closure also shifted the way in which the aquarium interacted with teachers and students to continue providing meaningful, accessible, and high-quality STEM education throughout San Diego County and beyond. In recognition of the K-12 loss of learning, Birch Aquarium pivoted to deliver engaging educational content to our community through an array of recorded videos and live-streamed events. The aquarium classrooms were converted to digital studios with the K-5 virtual summer camp as a test-pilot of virtual interactive experiences. Birch Aquarium also partnered with San Diego Unified School District’s PrimeTime after-school program to offer 81 virtual programs, serving more than 1,000 students. All participating schools are designated as Title I, meaning 73 percent of students qualify for free-reduced lunch.

Birch Aquarium Numbers Fiscal Year 20-21

110,460 total attendance

13,643 total students (includes virtual programs, virtual afterschool/PrimeTime, virtual camps and June’s onsite camps)

7,816 students who received financial aid

109 schools served (based on school programs data)



Scripps Welcomes Largest, Most Diverse Graduate Class in 2021

Scripps Institution of Oceanography welcomed its largest and most diverse graduate class in 2021. This fall, 56 PhD and 15 Master’s students joined Scripps with 25 percent identifying as an underrepresented minority (URM). The Master of Advanced Studies in Climate Science and Policy program admitted 20 students with 30 percent identifying as URM, and the Master of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation program welcomed 21 new students with 42 percent of them identifying as URM. These increases come after initiating targeted graduate application assistance programs, enhanced outreach to minority-serving institutions, and revamped digital recruitment materials that better showcase the student experience and community engagement at Scripps.

Unlearning Racism in Geoscience at Scripps

Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE) is a National Science Foundation-supported program to improve accessibility, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in geosciences, which historically is one of the least diverse fields in STEM. Founded by new Scripps faculty member Vashan Wright, the program is designed to deepen the knowledge of the effects of racism on the participation of people of color in geoscience and to develop and implement anti-racist policies on the institutional level that affect real change. In 2021, the newly formed URGE pod at Scripps, which is comprised of approximately 50 students, staff, postdocs and faculty, reviewed policies in place and made preliminary recommendations for improvements in the areas of racism complaints, demographics data, collaboration, admissions and hiring, safety and code of conduct, and the development of a resource map. In the coming year, the Scripps pod aims to refine these recommendations, working alongside institutional leaders on action and formally updating policies. More at

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Community Impact: The Scripps EDI team, including eight Community Engagement Fellows, organized the following events and programs to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion at Scripps: 

100 Community meet-ups hosted for APIMEDA, Black @ Scripps, First Gen, International, Latinx/Chicanx, Multicultural, and Queer @ Scripps communities 

50 One-on-one EDI check-ins hosted along with 8 community listening sessions 

19 Weekly Anti-Racism Reboot sessions organized for more than 130 registered participants 

4 Developing Engagement through Existing Pipeline (DEEP) Connections lectures with 300+ attendees

Alumni Impacts

Alumni of Scripps Oceanography represent academics, professionals, experts, and entrepreneurs. Their accomplishments reach far and wide, from education and environment to industry and innovation, and their impact spans the expanse of our planet, from deep oceans to deep space.

Cody Hooven (MAS ‘08) was named the chief operating officer at San Diego Community Power, and recently signed a deal with San Diego County to build a more affordable, equitable, and renewable energy-filled future in the area. SDCP will act as an alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric, likely bringing in hundreds of thousands more energy users in the region. Hear Union-Tribune interview >

Ayana Johnson (MS ’09, PhD ’11) was named the 11th annual recipient for the Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication in July, 2021. Johnson earned this award for her work as a marine biologist, policy expert and writer, as well as her efforts in engaging a broader audience in the climate change solution conversation. The organization said Johnson is “the rare combination of superb scientist and powerful communicator.” View virtual program >

Megan McArthur (PhD ‘02) piloted the NASA SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station in March 2021. The six-month mission marked McArthur’s first visit to the station and second time in space, where she completed scientific research in areas such as medical technology, human health, robotics, and more. She also participated in a live Q&A with Scripps, discussing her path from oceanography to the stars. McArthur and her Crew-2 colleagues returned to Earth in November, safely splashing down off the coast of Florida.

Tekateteke Metai (MAS '18) After completing her studies at Scripps, Metai returned to her family and home of Kiribati to help the South Pacific island nation protect their ocean resources. In 2021, Metai became the fundraising local consultant for Kiribati's Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), an initiative recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2018 as an "exemplary model" of international marine protection and conservation. Metai is also featured in "The Ecology of Home", an upcoming documentary sponsored by National Geographic and the Waitt Foundation.

Matt Mulrennan (MAS '10) was appointed CEO of EnVest, the world's leading environmental investing organization, which has helped raise more than $130 million for early-stage environmental companies by matching leading investors with the most compelling environmental entrepreneurs. Mulrennan was also one of 20 candidates nominated for the 2018 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Awards and was the Grand Prize winner of the Con X Tech Prize for conservation technology.

Audrey Tan (MAS ‘18) is a science and environment reporter with Singapore’s The Straits Times  and a leading voice in climate communications. Tan’s work has been globally recognized by environmentalists, scientists, and the Pulitzer Center, and in 2021, she won the Journalist of the Year award from Singapore Press Holdings. This award recognizes Tan’s expansive and timely coverage of COVID-19 and climate change, topics she examined through more than 260 stories, videos, podcasts and infographics. 


New Accelerator Fosters Ocean-Focused Startups

San Diego’s Blue Economy includes more than 1,400 local companies, supports 46,000 jobs, and generates $14 billion in direct sales. UC San Diego will be contributing even more to the growth of the local Blue Economy through a new ocean-focused accelerator program called startBlue, co-led by Scripps Oceanography and Rady School of Management. This new program aims to facilitate the translation of ocean science and technology into new startups, and was made possible thanks to an Industry Challenge Award from the Economic Development Administration, and a philanthropic match from Scripps Director’s Council members and other supporters. Eight teams were selected to start the accelerator program this fall and will participate in weekly workshops, receive one-on-one mentoring from industry experts, and gain facilitated access to potential partners, investment, and customers.

Scripps Oceanographic Research Vessels

The novel coronavirus pandemic created enormous challenges for our oceanographic research vessels. The entire U.S. Academic Research Fleet was ordered to stand down while effective measures were developed so that mariners, technicians, and scientists could safely work together at sea. After a 119-day hiatus from operations, Scripps ships returned to sea on July 1, 2020, following protocols developed under the guidance of doctors and infectious disease experts at UC San Diego, and in collaboration with our colleagues at the University-National Oceanography Laboratory System. These protocols enabled the fleet to return safely to sea in the pandemic. Scripps ships executed more days at sea during the pandemic than any other Academic Research Fleet operator—and not a single case of COVID-19 has occurred aboard a Scripps-operated ship.

The science party aboard R/V Sally Ride. Laura Lilly is at far left at rear; Angela Klemmedson is fourth from right.
Photo by Angela Klemmedson

Ships Numbers Fiscal Year 20-21 

263 operational days at sea conducting scientific research and instruction

34 separate research missions

383 people supported at sea
Of the people who sailed aboard, 255 were from Scripps, and the remaining came from 48 different institutions.

Ship Impact

Despite the pandemic, Scripps vessels accomplished great things during calendar year 2020. We completed the midlife refit of R/V Roger Revelle, and returned to productive service in a big way with a pair of challenging missions, a 51-day mission to the central Pacific, and a 60-day mission to the far Southern Ocean (60 degrees south) staged from Honolulu, led by Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences’ Barney Balch (PhD ‘85). Balch’s expedition aimed to investigate how carbon dioxide is being cycled between the atmosphere and ocean at an area of intense upwelling and high concentrations of nutrients.

R/V Sally Ride successfully carried out scientific missions for major programs sponsored by the NSF, the Office of Naval Research, DARPA, and NOAA—as well as three student-led expeditions through the UC Ship Funds Program. Additionally, in July 2020, the 71-year-old California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program accomplished an historic event, setting sail with its first-ever all-female science party. Our workhorse vessel, R/V Robert Gordon Sproul, had an exceptionally light schedule because one of its primary duties—carrying students to sea for classes or independent projects—was curtailed due to COVID.

 R/V Roger Revelle
 R/V Sally Ride
 R/V Robert Gordon Sproul
 FLIP Floating Instrument Platform
Position:  , Bearing:  , Pitch:  , Zoom:  


Cover of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Images of America

In June, a book was published on the history of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Authored by Scripps communications officer Robert Monroe, Images of America: Scripps Institution of Oceanography is part of a series of photo books that highlight historical points of interest across the country. The first comprehensive publication of Scripps Oceanography history in several decades, the book features more than 200 photographs spanning the period from Scripps’ founding in 1903 to 21st century research on climate change, the achievements of groundbreaking alumni, and technological advances in the institution’s second century of research. After its debut, the book placed on the Los Angeles Times’ list of Southern California bestsellers for paperback nonfiction for several weeks. The book is available at the UC San Diego Bookstore, Birch Aquarium gift shop, San Diego-area independent bookstores, through Amazon and other retailers.

Giving Impact

Marine Conservation and Technology Facility Rendering

The Marine Conservation and Technology Facility is set to open in spring of 2022 under its new name: the Ted and Jean Scripps Marine Conservation and Technology Facility. Members of the Scripps family gifted $6 million in support for the naming of this research building—a space dedicated to education, research, and technology development on marine ecosystems and science-inspired solutions, for both scientists and students alike.

“As climate change firmly takes hold and alters the ocean environment, it is more important than ever to understand the challenges our oceans face and what we can do to preserve them,” said Ed Scripps. "This center is fundamental in that process.”

The Ted and Jean Scripps Marine Conservation and Technology Facility is slated to open in March 2022. 

Thank you to our donors!


Christy and Edward Scripps Jr. 
Valorie Seyfert

Ellen Lehman, PhD and Charles Kennel, PhD

Larry Icerman, MS ’68, PhD ‘78
Wendy W. Kwok ‘99
Susan and David Rockefeller Jr. 
Patricia and William Todd
Irving Tragen

Miranda Ko ‘14 and Tsz Yan K Cui
Dinia and Lloyd Green
Elizabeth and Philip Hiestand
Nancy and David Haney
Caroline and Nicolas Nierenberg
Kathryn and William H. Scripps

Eve and Osama Attal
Denise Bevers ’97 and Lon Bevers
Angelo Carlucci*
Margaret and David Engel
Mario Gaytan ‘17
Catherine and Matthew Hervey
Linda Hervey
Gisela Hill
Allison and Robert Price
Amparo and Leo Rotter
Julie and Michael Scarpella
Jean Scripps
Stephen Strachan

Sharon and Carlos Arbelaez
Mary Ann Beyster
Joyce Haak-Brooks and Paul Brooks
Denise and Gary David
Carol and Thomas Dillon
Susan and Sheldon Engelhorn
Annalisa Griffa, MS ’83, PhD ’88 and M. Rustin Erdman, PhD ‘83
Gail and John Eyler
Jeffrey Henley
Paula and William Hodgkiss
Kristina and Semyon Kruglyak
Leslie and John McQuown
Kathy and Charles Mitchell
Mary Munk
Becky Robbins
Mysti and Gerald Scripps
Norma and William A. Scripps
Martha Shaw
Eliza and Stuart Stedman
Dale and Mark Steele
Cheryl and Donald Ward
Jane Widroe ’84 and Greg Widroe
Richard Yasuda



The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Herman P & Sophia Taubman Foundation
Vetlesen Foundation

The Paul M. Angell Family Foundation
Birch Foundation
The Builders Initiative, Inc.
Green Foundation for Earth Sciences
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
Moore Family Foundation
The Nature Conservancy
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Schmidt Ocean Institute
The William and Kathryn Scripps Family Foundation Inc.
The Seaver Institute
Simons Foundation, Inc.
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
The Michael and Karen Stone Family Foundation, Inc.
Waitt Foundation

Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Foundation
Gibbet Hill Foundation
The J. M. Kaplan Fund
National Academy of Sciences
National Geographic Society
Pincus Family Foundation
The Schmidt Family Foundation

Alan G Lehman and Jane A Lehman Foundation
Illumina Corporate Foundation
Ocean Visions, Inc.
Charles H. Stout Foundation
Edna Bailey Sussman Fund

The Archie Arnold Trust
Charities Aid Foundation of America
Enberg Family Charitable Foundation
Koret Foundation
The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation
MUFG Union Bank Foundation
Walter Munk Foundation For The Oceans
Oceanides Conservacion Y Desarrollo Marino AC
Perpetual Family Foundation
Price Philanthropies Foundation
Spielman Family Foundation



Blue Oceans Barns Inc.

Global Ocean Design
Research Corporation for Science Advancement
San Diego County Water Authority 
Turlock Irrigation District

Sony Group Corporation

Clearview Energy
Cox Communications
Dimensional Fund Advisors LP
Douglas Products 
Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District
Irvine Ranch Water District
MUFG Union Bank Foundation
Orange County Water District
Qualcomm Inc.
Salindrone Inc. 
San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District
Santa Clara Valley Water District
City of San Diego
City and County of San Francisco
Westfield Corporation
Yuba Water Agency

Statement of Activity

This section provides an overview of revenue and expenses, census and award info, and a list of sponsored research funding entities.  

Past annual reports