Oceanography at Texas A&M University officially dates from 8 January 1949, when the Board of Directors of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas established the Department of Oceanography and Meteorology, one of the first such academic programs in the United States. With initial professional appointments in physical, biological, chemical, geological, and meteorological oceanography, A&M's program recognized from the beginning the inherent multidisciplinary nature of the field, including its important connection with the atmosphere. Operations began in September of that year, with a curriculum leading to graduate degrees in oceanography.
Partly as a result of growing interest in the earth sciences, a new College of Geosciences was created in July of 1964, bringing together independent Departments of Oceanography and Meteorology with Departments of Geology, Geography, and Geophysics under one administrative unit. At the time, the Oceanography Department housed about ten faculty and 75 graduate students, and a marine laboratory was maintained in Galveston. The original "meteorological" subdiscipline of oceanography has since evolved into coupled ocean-atmosphere studies and climate research.
As a broader response to expansion and growth, the name of the institution was changed in 1963 to Texas A&M University, and the first steps were taken to establish coeducation in place of the formerly all-male student body with compulsory military training. As a result of these farsighted changes, Texas A&M today is a multi-faceted university with a student body numbering approximately 42,000, of whom about half are women.
A Sea Grant University
The department's growth continued throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s during the "golden age of oceanography," when both public interest and federal funding increased apace. In the early 1970s, Texas A&M was named a Sea Grant University, beginning an era of issues-oriented ocean studies that continues today. Growth of the faculty and student populations brought pressure for increased space to accommodate them, leading to the construction of a 15-story building that has housed three departments of the College of Geosciences. The "Oceanography and Meteorology" building (officially the David G. Eller Building) provides office and laboratory space on the main campus for administration, scientists, students, and staff.
Presently, the Oceanography Department includes about three dozen faculty, four dozen research scientists and staff, and about 100 graduate students divided among the four principal subdisciplines of physical, chemical, biological, and geological/geophysical oceanography. In 1971, students from each of the four sections of the department founded the Oceanography Graduate Council (OGC), whose purpose is to enhance the academic and social welfare of all oceanography graduate students at Texas A&M. The OGC continues its active and successful program, and its members play an important role in determining student-related aspects of departmental functions.
The seventies also produced a new research ship built by the U.S. Navy specifically for multi-disciplinary oceanographic research. The Research Vessel Gyre (AGOR-21), now a 182-foot vessel with an 8,000 mile cruising range, began operations for the Oceanography Department in January, 1974, operating from its home port located in Galveston. The vessel has cruised in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. With ongoing improvements in instrumentation and equipment, R/V Gyre continues along seagoing tradition in the department and provides a capable at-sea platform for scientists, researchers, and students at Texas A&M and many other cooperating institutions. In 1994, when the Gyre began its 20th year of operations, the title to this research vessel transferred from the Navy to Texas A&M.
Sea-Going Research and the Galveston Campus
In 1984, Texas A&M University was named as the site of the international program, the Ocean Drilling Project. Facilities includea separate building and the 471-foot drill ship, JOIDES (Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling) Resolution, which is capable of drilling bottom cores in the deep ocean in ice-free waters. In 1992, the Board of Regents merged the Galveston campus into the re-named College of Geosciences and Maritime Studies. The Department of Oceanography in College Station administratively merged with the Department of Marine Sciences in Galveston. By 1996 Galveston became a branch campus of Texas A&M University and the College again became the College of Geosciences. The Department of Oceanography completed an administrative de-merger in 2001, and the Department of Marine Sciences was re-established, but the two departments on the two campuses continue to work together. The graduate program is headquartered in College Station and the undergraduate degree program is operated from Galveston.
Work in oceanography allows one to participate in the exciting study to understand a large part of our planet. Achieving such understanding has become even more important as our society extends its ability to affect the marine environment from localized coastal situations to the entire globe. Oceanographic understanding will allow us to handle our environmental stewardship more wisely in the coming years.