MBARI creates and globally scales the visionary technologies required to explore, map, and understand our changing ocean.
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MBARI is a non-profit oceanographic research center advancing marine science and engineering to understand our changing ocean.
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David Packard believed that addressing the challenges of ocean exploration required a new type of research institute—one independent in spirit and collaborative by design. He founded MBARI on the core principle of scientists, engineers, and marine operations working in equal partnership to develop innovative marine technology. The research vessel Western Flyer embodied MBARI’s willingness to think big, be bold, and invest in long-term outcomes.
Biological oceanographer Bruce Robison, then on the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara, had a research grant to use the human-occupied submersible Deep Rover to investigate the depths off the Central California coast. What he observed through the submersible’s acrylic sphere both excited and frustrated him. The excitement stemmed from the remarkable animals and environment he witnessed; the frustration came from not being able to document his findings well due to the lack of a high-quality video camera.
Robison found a solution at the newly established Monterey Bay Aquarium, where engineer Derek Baylis had designed and constructed an underwater housing for a broadcast-quality camera that allowed Robison to capture images of the wonders he’d been trying to communicate to skeptics. The captivating video images from Robison’s exploratory voyage inspired the concept of a deep-water research program in Monterey Bay. While aquarium planners had intended to cultivate research projects related to marine life displays, aquarium benefactor David Packard’s thinking now shifted to the idea of establishing a research program with a much broader agenda.
In autumn of 1986 a meeting was called to convene an oceanographic think-tank of scientists from top-flight West Coast research institutions. The group discussed the status of oceanography and the feasibility of setting up a major research effort at Monterey Bay. A planning committee was formed and, meeting with David Packard, his wife, Lucile, and members of the aquarium board, the group began to set goals and parameters for a research center. The new institute was to have, in the words of the committee, “a clear identity distinct from that of other oceanographic institutions and a reason for being that leaves no doubt that the institute occupies a mostly vacant niche of importance.”
Packard decided that the research center should be an independent entity, separate from the aquarium. Articles of incorporation as a public-benefit, non-profit corporation were filed in May, and the MBARI (pronounced “em-baree”) board of directors met for the first time on June 27. The institute’s “clear identity and reason for being” derived directly from David Packard’s vision. Packard realized that Monterey Bay—with its steep drop-off to near-abyssal depths within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of shore—offered an unprecedented opportunity to explore, in microcosm, the planet’s oceans. And, he realized that development of improved technology for observation of the deep ocean would offer great opportunity for scientific advances. It was also a unique chance for Packard to apply his energy, leadership, and engineering acumen to press oceanography onward into twenty-first-century technology.
In 1997, the institute took a look back at its formative first 10 years, producing a 76-page retrospective. The full publication is online as a PDF document.
Among the top achievements of MBARI’s first 20 years were the development of the remotely operated vehicle Tiburon, discoveries about the importance of gelatinous animals in deep-ocean ecosystem, and experiments on the impact of sequestering carbon dioxide in the deep sea.