$10,000 Donation Funds Oceanic Exploration


A recent donation by a Scripps Oceanography emeritus professor is aiding the exploration of unknown occurrences in the ocean.

Over the past two months, Charles “Chip” Cox has donated almost $10,000 to the Hydraulics Laboratory Technology Application Group at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

This donation is a prime example of how Scripps maintains strong relationships with its professors and alumni. Cox received a PhD in oceanography from Scripps Oceanography in 1955. Upon graduation, he took a position as an assistant research oceanographer at Scripps, and eventually worked his way to becoming a professor of oceanography and a researcher.

Throughout Cox’s extensive career, his research focused on ocean waves, the transfer of heat through the oceans, and electromagnetic processes in and below the sea.  Although currently retired, he still holds an interest in the current research being conducted at Scripps.

Through his recent donation, Cox is working with the Hydraulics Laboratory at Scripps to better understand how an oil film on the sea surface affects the wind as it flows over waves.

According to Cox’s article “Suppression of Breakers in Stormy Seas By an Oil Film,” to be published in August 2015 in The International Journal of Marine History, the best information on the ability of an oil film to stop breaking seas in storms can be found in an incident that occurred in 1883, when crew members of a sinking vessel were saved by use of a small open boat in a storm. In an account of the event by Thomas Greenback, the master of the rescuing ship, five gallons of fish oil spread windward of the ships had a “magical” effect in stopping breakers so that the small boat could be launched and rowed to-and-from the sinking vessel several times safely.

“It is astonishing that a weak film of oil has such remarkable effects,” said Cox. "It appears that the oil film on the water worked its magic by altering the wind in such a way that big storm waves stopped growing."

With no modern studies having been conducted in stormy conditions, Cox believes it is important for the scientific community to pursue research with modern tools.

In the Hydraulics Laboratory at Scripps, equipment is being developed to help find answers to this oceanic mystery. Douglas Alden, senior development engineer at the Hydraulics Laboratory, said that researchers are working “to design and build an instrumented raft to measure winds very close to the ocean surface.”

These researchers aim to gain insight into how the oiled sea affects the flow of wind. Three ultrasonic anemometers will sample the wind at heights of a few inches to a few feet while the raft follows the waves. An Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and a GPS receiver will keep track of the anemometer positions. A radio modem will transmit data to an accompanying boat. 

“The IMU allows us to measure the raft motion and will help interpret the changes in the wind,” said Alden.

The Scripps Hydraulics Laboratory has an extensive history of doing research on physical oceanography and meteorology, offering its facilities and equipment to help further those studies. In order to make the most of the donation provided by Cox, the Hydraulics Lab is using supplies from its own inventory to work on this project.

Thanks to this gift, laboratories and researchers at Scripps can continue to further research on important questions being asked by the scientific community. Scripps is thankful to have incredible donors such as Cox to help continue the exploration of unknown mysteries of the ocean.

– Ashlee Hanson is a communications intern at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

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