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Sheldon W.
Democrat RI

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  • Remembering Dr. John A. Knauss

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    Posted on 2015-12-03

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    WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, recently the oceans lost one of their greatest champions. With the passing of Dr. John A. Knauss, Rhode Island has lost a beloved teacher, a visionary leader, and a brilliant scientist. We will all miss him a great deal.

    John's accomplishments are too many to list, but I will note a few.

    In 1966, Dr. Knauss was named to the Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources, where he and his colleagues recommended that Congress form a new and independent Federal agency to advance marine and atmospheric sciences and better understand our oceans, coastlines, and Great Lakes. That agency became the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which conducts some of the most important ocean science in the world and where John served as Administrator from 1989 to 1993.

    Along with Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell and Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus, Dr. Knauss developed the National Sea Grant College Program. Their model was the country's land grant college system--century-old centers of learning that promote better use of America's vast resources of land. Pell and Knauss thought that surely our oceans and Great Lakes needed a similar network of institutions to conduct coastal and marine science and promote conservation of such important natural assets.

    Congress agreed. In 2016, Sea Grant will celebrate 50 years of good work on behalf of our oceans and Great Lakes. In recognition of his vision and leadership in forming Sea Grant, NOAA named one of its most prestigious fellowships in his honor--the NOAA Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. Every year, around 50 of the Nation's top graduate and postgraduate students are selected for Knauss fellowships to spend a year working on marine and coastal policy issues for the Federal agencies and congressional offices in Washington, DC. Two Knauss fellows, Adena Leibman and Anna-Marie Laura, have worked in my Senate office, helping shape national oceans policy.

    But perhaps his most significant achievement is the Graduate School of Oceanography, GSO, at the University of Rhode Island. John founded the GSO in 1962, served as its dean for over 25 years, and built it into an international leader in marine research. Today, sitting atop a bluff overlooking Rhode Island's beautiful Narragansett Bay, the GSO is home to 41 faculty and 170 graduate students engaged in cutting-edge oceanographic science and pursuing degrees across a range of specialties, including the country's first marine affairs and ocean engineering programs. It is a true Rhode Island treasure, one we should continue investing in, and a testament to Dean Knauss's leadership and commitment to our oceans.

    Easily lost among his accomplishments in founding and leading ocean research institutions are his personal contributions to oceanography. In his dissertation for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, John was the first to make comprehensive measurements of the Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent--a current that runs for thousands of miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. He later discovered another major current in the Indian Ocean.

    John will be remembered for his collegiality and gift for collaboration among the administrators, faculty, students, and other researchers and ocean-minded professionals that he touched. Like the currents he studied, connecting vast oceans in one system, the institutions and programs he created and led bind together leading minds in ocean science, bettering our understanding of our ocean world and how important it is to us.

    I offer my and Sandra's condolences to the Knauss family, to the marine science community, and to the countless people John Knauss taught, mentored, and inspired through the years. ____________________

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