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Early History of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (CIMAR; previously JIMAR)

Early History of CIMAR

On October 1, 2021, the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) was replaced by the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (CIMAR). JIMAR was established in September, 1977, by an agreement between the Environmental Research Laboratories (ERL) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Hawai’i (UH). But JIMAR’s history reaches even farther back. Here we quote liberally from George Pararas-Carayannis’ “A historical Summary of Early Tsunami Research in the U.S.” (The document can be found here: http://www.drgeorgepc.com/TsunamiResearchHist.html.) As a consequence of the devastating 1960 Chilean and 1964 Aleutian Is. tsunamis, in 1965, an agreement was reached between the University of Hawai’i and the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS) to form the Joint Tsunami Research Effort (JTRE). Additional funding was provided by the State and the USCGS to continue the tsunami research at UH’s Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and to support the cooperative effort by bringing in new people. The tsunami research team at that time included professors, researchers and graduate students who were already working at HIG or other University of Hawaiʻi departments. Some of them had dual appointments and could only work on a part time basis. Doak Cox, Gus Furumoto, Bill Adams, Martin Vitousek, Rockne Johnson, Harold Loomis, and HIG graduate students Don Hussong, Fred Duennebier, Floyd McCoy, Gary Stice, Frisbee Campbell, George Pararas-Carayannis, Daniel Walker, Tom Sokolowski and others were already participating actively in the tsunami research program.

Subsequently in 1965, Gaylord Miller, Gordon Groves, Lester Spielvogel and Jim Larsen joined the Group. Bill Adams served as the initial Director of JTRE, then Gaylord Miller – who had worked with Walter Munk at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on long period wave research. Rudolph Preisendorfer was a visiting scientist. Doak Cox assumed the Directorship of the Environmental Center at the University but continued to be active with JTRE. In 1967 George Pararas-Carayannis went to work as oceanographer for the newly formed International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC), under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, but continued close cooperation on JTRE Group research – working with Doak Cox on the historical tsunami database and with Gaylord Miller on numerical modeling and tsunami travel time charts for the warning system. Subsequent government reorganizations brought JTRE under the joint auspices of the University of Hawaiʻi and the newly established U.S. Environmental Services Science Administration (ESSA) then, in the 1970’s, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, ERL, NOAA (ESSA reorganized under this new name) provided funding through the University’s Research Corporation to support newly appointed scientists and additional graduate students.

During the 1970s, Gaylord Miller, George Curtis, Harold Loomis, and Lester Spielvogel continued to carry out tsunami research at the University of Hawaiʻi with such support. Charles Mader was with the Los Alamos Laboratory, but was an active participant in the U.S. tsunami program. There was no other significant tsunami research being carried out anywhere in the U.S. at the time, although scientists like George Carier at Harvard were involved in theoretical studies of wave theory.

Two small boats on the water
Two JIMAR workers next to a couple of turtles on the beach

The scope of the early research at JTRE in Hawaiʻi – was as diversified as the background and expertise of the scientists in the program. For example, Harold Loomis published a number of papers on the hydrodynamics of long period waves, their normal modes of oscillation in confined bays and harbors, the effects of resonance on long wave amplification and on the spectral analysis of tsunami records. Gaylord Miller, an expert on long period waves, worked on a tsunami propagation modeling program, the run-up of bores, and the relative spectra of tsunamis and tides. Tom Sokolowski worked on a quadripartite seismic array to supply additional data for the Tsunami Warning System. Gordon Groves, Bob Harvey and Eddie Bernard worked on the dissipation of tsunamis, their spectral decomposition and the non-linear behavior at islands and continental coastlines. … These are just a few of the early research activities that were carried out at JTRE in the first decade of its establishment, and this was the extent of early tsunami research in the U.S.

With the passing of Gaylord Miller, and the recruitment of Charles Helsley as the second Director of HIG, a series of discussions about the future of JTRE, took place. Since it had been years since a Pacific-wide tsunami, a proposal had been made to close JTRE down. This coincided with a move by NOAA to expand their Cooperative Institute Program. The Boulder CI (CIRES) was established in 1967. New CI’s were developed at Seattle (JISAO), Miami (CIMAS) and Norman (CIMMS). In Hawaiʻi, JIMAR was created, with the MOU signed in September, 1977. The JTRE staff was incorporated within JIMAR and the new CI had three initial research themes:

  1. Tsunamis and other long-period ocean waves
  2. Equatorial oceanography (reflecting new JIMAR Director, Dennis Moore’s interests)
  3. Climate

Since 1977, NOAA’s research interests, often based on Congressional mandates, grew in areas such as the health and management of Pacific fisheries, forecasting the health of coral reef ecosystems under the threat of climate change, and protecting and restoring threatened resources, all the while retaining keen interests in tsunamis and other related long-period waves, equatorial oceanography, and climate. The eight current CIMAR research themes are described in more detail here.

CIMAR is one of 19 Cooperative Institutes currently supported by NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR). These cooperative institutes usually form a tight relationship between one or more NOAA research laboratories and academic institutions. The principal NOAA lab with which CIMAR collaborates is the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on Oahu Island, Hawai’i. Since 1988, JIMAR/CIMAR has been part of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) within the University of Hawai’i. The CIMAR offices are located on the UH Mānoa Campus, primarily in the Marine Sciences Building.

Aerial photo of southern Oahu coastline