Marcia McNutt is director of the United States Geological Survey and science adviser to the United States Secretary of the Interior. Previously she was the president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, California. Dr. McNutt’s principal research focuses on the use of marine geophysical data to study the physical properties of the Earth beneath the oceans, including projects that explored the history of volcanism in French Polynesia and how it relates to broad-scale convection in the Earth’s mantle, continental break-up in the western U.S., and the uplift of the Tibet plateau. Her research is both theoretical and field-based, using data collected on nearly two-dozen oceanographic expeditions. Dr. McNutt began here career with a brief appointment at the University of Minnesota, followed by three years at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, where she worked on earthquake prediction. In 1982, she was appointed Griswold Professor of Geophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. McNutt spent the next 15 years at MIT, where she was appointed the Griswold Professor of Geophysics, and also served as director of the Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering, a cooperative graduate educational program between MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In 1988, Dr. McNutt won the Macelwane Award from the American Geophysical Union, presented for outstanding research by a young scientist. From 2000-2002, she was the president-elect of the American Geophysical Union. Dr. McNutt received a B.A. in physics from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. With the help of a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, she studied geophysics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, where she earned a Ph.D. in earth sciences.
The ocean is essential to life on Earth: it is Earth’s largest living space and contains most of its biomass. The ocean moderates climate to keep Earth habitable, recycles our wastes, and provides an inexpensive source of protein to fee the global population. Yet 95 percent of the ocean remains unknown and unexplored. Now, thanks to a number of technological innovations, we have the tool necessary to undertake a systematic exploration of the ocean. Autonomous vehicles can be programmed to execute precise underwater surveys lasting up to week without pause. Remotely operated vehicles equipped with physical, chemical, an biological sensors function as our eyes, ears, noses, and hands in the deep sea. New data management systems permit the systematic archiving of information, allowing subsequent generations of researchers around the world to answer questions not contemplated at the time the data were collected. Much has been learned about the oceans through traditional research programs. But research is different from exploration. While research attempts to find answers, exploration inevitably uncovers new questions. Ocean exploration brings great, but often unpredictable, rewards: cures for diseases from novel biological compounds, untapped mineral, energy, and biological resources, new insight into how the ocean functions, geological and biological vistas of unsurpassed beauty, and renewed appreciation for mankind’s maritime past. The time is ripe to launch a major international program of ocean exploration with all the benefits it will bring.
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