by WHOI Archivist Dave Sherman
a post in recognition of Intenational Women's Month
(above) L-R: Esther Wilson, Eileen Bergstrom, Gloria Gallagher, & Arnold Clarke filing BT cards in Bigelow bldg. Photo courtesy of WHOI Archives. Copyright © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
From 1941 until the late-1950s, a team of women working at WHOI built and maintained a library of hydrographic data that was ultimately critical in mapping the North Atlantic.
At the beginning of World War II, the U.S. Hydrographic Office set up a program using WHOI’s resources to collect and process data from bathythermographs, or BTs, (oceanographic instruments that recorded water temperature and pressure at different depths) and organize them into a library of data that was used to create maps of the ocean. Any organization was eligible to send data to the program provided they obtained the BT observations using U.S. Navy specifications. A number of agencies and organizations sent data, including the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Hydrographic Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, English ships and various companies and universities.
(above)WHOI employees process hydrographic data, (L-R) Louis Post, Val Worthington, Patricia Brown, Eileen Scharff, Gloria Gallagher, and Doris Lumbert. Photo courtesy of WHOI Archives. Copyright © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
When the project began in the early 1940s, the main purpose was to create charts to help the war effort, but after the war, the extensive amount of data processed by the team was combined with other pre-war temperature observations and used to study seasonal thermal cycles. Physical oceanographer Fritz Fuglister, who was in charge of the processing and analysis of data, used the data from Diaco and her team to study the relationship between temperature distribution and currents, and in particular to track the course of the Gulf Stream. These studies had practical value for subsurface navigation and for commercial fisheries and other industries. A number of charts of the North Atlantic, including Fuglister’s three dimensional model of temperature distribution in the Western North Atlantic, were also created using the BT data. The importance of the project was also illustrated by the fact that WHOI started planning longer cruises around the time specifically to fill in gaps in geographic and seasonal coverage of the observation data.
Processing the slides was a monotonous, time-consuming procedure, with the average time per slide taking 6.8 minutes, but in 1956 John Stimpson devised a new method of producing the BT cards. Along with project supervisor Elizabeth Schroeder, Stimpson refined the process to cut down on the time and production costs. The new ammonia vapor reproduction process tripled the output of cards produced to about 1000 per day, and also made it easier to produce new copies of an individual card if needed. The new process also had the advantage using the same cards as the original process, so that no changes in the filing and storage system were needed. The increase in productivity also meant that fewer people were needed to process the data, so the project staff was reduced over time as the new procedures were implemented.