Ellen and Roger Revelle
Roger Revelle Biography
Revelle hoped to desegregate the sciences and the humanities and social sciences, because of the profound effect of technology and scientific discovery upon all aspects of modern society.
Though UCSD's first college is named for him, he never became Chancellor - but that is another story. When the new campus was fairly launched, in 1964 he moved on to Harvard University, where he was Professor of Population Policy and Director of the Center for Population Studies until his retirement in 1976. He then returned to reside in La Jolla until his death in 1991 -- teaching, doing research and living his belief that science can make a great contribution to the welfare of people everywhere -- especially the poorest people.
Roger Revelle was born in Seattle, Washington, on March 7, 1909. He received an A.B. degree in geology from Pomona College in 1929. Three factors propelled him toward oceanography: acrophobia, an Odyssean love of seagoing and ships, and marriage to a La Jolla girl. He received a Ph.D. from the University of California in 1936 for work undertaken at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. After joining the Naval Reserve, Revelle spent a postdoctoral year at the Geophysical Institute in Bergen, Norway.
Called to active duty at the onset of World War II, Revelle was the principal liaison officer between the Navy and the divisions of the National Defense Research Committee that dealt with oceanography. He was responsible for technical planning and guidance of all oceanographic research undertaken under Navy contract. He was one of a small group of naval officers who persuaded the Navy to establish the Office of Naval Research, which sponsored postwar oceanographic research by contract with academic institutions. At war's close, Revelle was assigned to Joint Task Force One and led the oceanographic and geophysical components of Operation Crossroads, the initial postwar atomic test at Bikini Atoll. As a member of the National Academy of Sciences Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation, he developed a lifelong research interest in radioactivity in the marine environment.
Revelle returned to Scripps in 1948 and served as its director from 1950 to 1964. During this period he built a research fleet that undertook a series of deep ocean expeditions to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Revelle led the Midpac Expedition (1950), which delineated the submarine Mid-Pacific Mountains, and the Capricorn Expedition (1952-1953), which explored the Tonga Trench, deep seafloor, and crustal structure and heat flow of the southwest Pacific. In those years, Revelle played a seminal role in the creation of the University of California, San Diego, which named its first college Revelle College in his honor.
Always active in national and international scientific organizations, in the early 1950s Revelle became president of the Oceanography Section of the American Geophysical Union. He was a "founder" of the American Miscellaneous Society and campaigned early for its Project Mohole. He chaired the Panel on Oceanography of the U.S. National Committee of the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The IGY included support for the Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Program headed by Charles David Keeling. In 1957, with Hans Suess, Revelle demonstrated that atmospheric carbon dioxide had increased due to burning of fossil fuels. They and others suggested that this would affect climate. Revelle's publications and testimony on atmospheric carbon dioxide during the 1970s made the "greenhouse effect" a public issue, one contribution cited when he became President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1974.
Revelle was an organizer of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and in 1957 he became a founding member of the International Council of Scientific Union's Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research. He was president of the first International Oceanographic Congress. In 1961, Revelle became the first science advisor to the Secretary of the Interior and chaired a White House panel that suggested improvements in irrigation which led to increased agricultural production in Pakistan. This was the first of Revelle's many contributions to on-site studies of resources, population, science education, and technical development in poorer nations. He became the first director of the Center for Population Studies at Harvard from 1964 to 1978.
Revelle was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1957 and served on key committees including the Committee on Oceanography (NASCO) and the Geophysics Film Committee that authenticated the science presented in the PBS series "Planet Earth." Among his honors were the Agassiz Medal, the Balzan Prize, the American Geophysical Union's William Bowie Medal, the Tyler Energy Prize, the Vannevar Bush Award, and Pakistan's order of Sitara-I-Imtiaz. Roger Revelle received the National Medal of Science in 1990, 8 months before he died in La Jolla on July 15, 1991.