Information and History

General Information on IAPSO

IAPSO is one of eight Associations of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) which in turn is constituted within the International Council for Science (ICSU). Funding for ICSU, its unions and associations, comes from member countries and their representative national agencies. Those countries which adhere to the statutes and by-laws of IUGG are Members of IAPSO.

IAPSO has the prime goal of "promoting the study of scientific problems relating to the oceans and the interactions taking places at the sea floor, coastal, and atmospheric boundaries insofar as such research is conducted by the use of mathematics, physics, and chemistry." IAPSO has addressed this goal through four fundamental objectives:

  1. Organize, sponsor, and co-sponsor formal and informal international forums permitting ready means of communication amongst ocean scientists throughout the world;
  2. Establish commissions, sub-committees, and organize commensurate workshops to encourage, stimulate, and coordinate new and advanced international research activities;
  3. Provide basic services significant to the conduct of physical oceanography, and
  4. Publish proceedings of symposia, meetings, and workshops, and fundamental references on the current state-of-the art and knowledge of physical oceanography.

These four objectives are carried out mainly through the efforts of the IAPSO Bureau (President and Secretary-General) and the world of IAPSO's commissions with advice and oversight by the IAPSO Executive Committee. As the result of these efforts, IAPSO has organized and sponsored the only continuous international forums open to physical oceanographers around the world.

IAPSO maintains formal liaison with other scientific commissions and committees. These include the ICSU's Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), and UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

The authority of IAPSO is vested in member countries and exercised collectively by their delegates while meeting during the General Assembly. The President, two Vice Presidents, Secretary General, Treasurer and Executive Board members are elected. Over the years, many internationally distinguished scientists have occupied, and continue to occupy, these offices.


The history of IAPSO dates from the early years of the 20th century

Modern oceanography had its beginnings in the 18th century voyages of James Cook and others which carried scientific observers. Those voyages were followed by oceanographic cruises in the 19th century financed by various governments. Prince Albert I of Monaco had an early interest in the sea and had entered into a naval career as a young man, serving in both the French and Spanish Navies. After seeing the results of the recent voyages of the "Travailleur" and the "Talisman" in an exhibition in the Paris Museum, Prince Albert made a decision in 1884 to devote his time and resources to oceanography. Over the next 30 years he financed the construction or acquisition of a series of four vessels which he used for oceanographic cruises. Prince Albert's initial main collaborator was Baron Jules de Guerne, joined in 1887 by Dr. Jules Richard. Maurice Leger and Paul Portier assisted Prince Albert in developing scientific equipment. John Young Buchanan joined the group as an oceanographer after serving as chemist to the Challenger expedition. Prince Albert's last voyage ended in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I.

Prince Albert I always had a strong interest in international cooperation. In 1900, he had granted his patronage to the establishment of the short-lived International Marine Association which ended meetings after 1904. With the encouragement of Buchanan, he sought to establish a new international organization after the end of the war.

The opportunity for that arose when the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) was established in Brussels, Belgium, on July 28, 1919 during the Constitutive Assembly of the International Research Council (predecessor of the International Council of Scientific Unions which was created in 1931). At the meeting in Brussels, a Section of Physical Oceanography was formed with Prince Albert of Monaco as its first President, Professor Horace Lamb of Great Britain as the Vice President, and Professor G. Magrini of Italy as the Secretary. Prince Albert I also founded a biological oceanography section in the International Union of Biological Sciences.

The first IUGG General Assembly was held in Rome, Italy, in May 1922. Prince Albert died in July of that year, and Vice- Admiral Sir John Perry of Great Britain, elected Vice President in Rome, carried on until the next General Assembly held in Madrid in 1924 where Professor Odon de Buen of Spain was elected President. Vice-Admiral Perry continued as Vice President (he died in 1926). Professor Magrini continued as Secretary. Both de Buen and Magrini were re-elected to their positions at the third IUGG General Assembly held in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1927, where Dr. W. Schmidt of Germany became Vice President.

At an Assembly in Seville, Spain, in 1929, held separately from IUGG, the Section of Physical Oceanography became the Association of Physical Oceanography. At the fourth IUGG General Assembly held the following year in Stockholm, Sweden, Prof. Martin Knudsen of Denmark was elected President of the Association, Ing. D. Fichot of France became Vice President, and Prof. Rolf Witting of Finland became Secretary. Profs. de Buen and Magrini continued as members of the Association's Executive Committee. At the fifth IUGG General Assembly held in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1933, Knudsen and Fichot were re-elected to their positions and Prof. J. Proudman of Great Britain became Secretary (he would hold that position until 1948). Magrini and de Buen continued on the Executive Committee (Magrini died in 1935).

General Assemblies were held in 1936 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and in September 1939 in Washington, DC. Prof. B. Helland-Hansen became President of the Association in 1936 and held that position until 1946. Due to the disruptions of World War II, the following General Assembly was not held until 1948 when it was in Oslo, Norway. In the meantime, Prof. H. U. Sverdrup became President, continuing in that position until 1951. In 1948 Prof. Proudman became Vice President and Prof H. Mosby of Norway became Secretary. At that General Assembly the Association became the International Association of Physical Oceanography (IAPO).

Prof. Proudman became President of the Association at the General Assembly in Brussels, Belgium in 1951, Professor Sverdrup continued as a member of the Executive Committee, and Prof. Mosby continued as Secretary until being elected President of the Association at the General Assembly in Rome, Italy in 1954. At that time Dr. R. H. Fleming of the United States became Secretary General. Profs. Proudman and Sverdrup continued as members of the Executive Committee (Prof. Sverdrup died in 1957). At the next General Assembly in Toronto, Canada, in 1957, Prof. Mosby continued as President, Prof B. Kullenberg of Sweden became Secretary, and Prof. Proudman continued on the Executive Committee for an additional term.

At the 1960 General Assembly in Helsinki, Finland, Dr. G. Deacon of Great Britain became President, and Prof. Kullenberg continued as Secretary. In 1963, at the General Assembly in Berkeley, United States, Prof. Roger Revelle became President, Prof. Kullenbery became a Vice President, and Prof. I. Hela of Finland became Secretary. After 1963 the interval between IUGG General Assemblies became four years.

In 1967, the IUGG and Association General Assemblies were held in Switzerland, but in different cities, the IUGG meeting in Bern, IAPO became the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO) and met in Sankt Gallen, and other Associations met in Basal and Zurich. Prof. Dietrich of Germany became the IAPSO President, and Dr. A. E. Maxwell of the United States became the Secretary (the Secretariat would remain in the United States from 1967 to 2007). In 1970, IAPSO held its General Assembly in Tokyo, Japan, separately from the IUGG General Assembly held in Moscow, Russia, in 1971, and held oceanographic sessions in conjunction with the IUGG General Assembly.

Successive IAPSO Presidents were Henri Lacombe (France 1970- 1975); Robert W. Stewart (Canada 1975-1979); Devendra Lal (India 1979-1983); Wolfgang Krauss (Germany 1983-1987); James J. O'Brien (United States 1987-1991); Robin D. Muench (United States 1991- 1995); L. Vere Shannon (South Africa 1995-1999, when he continued on the Executive Committee as Past President under revised statutes and by-laws which went into effect that year); Paola Rizzoli (United States/Italy 1999-2003); Shiro Imawaki (Japan 2003-2007); Lawrence A. Mysak (Canada 2007-2011); Eugene G. Morozov (Russian Federation 2011-2015); Denise Smythe-Wright (United Kingdom) was elected in 2015. The position of Secretary became Secretary General in 1979. Successive Secretaries/Secretaries General have been Eugene C. LaFond (United States 1970-1987); Robert E. Stevenson (United States 1987-1995); Fred E. Camfield (United States 1995-2007);  Johan Rodhe (Sweden 2007-2015) and Stefania Sparnocchia (Italy) was elected in 2015.

At the General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, in 1991, IAPSO made a minor name change, revising it to the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans.

In 1999, there were revisions to the Statutes and By-Laws to increase the number of members on the Executive Committee, add the Past President as a member of the Executive Committee, and formally create a Nominations Committee.


History of Collaborations Between SCOR and IAPSO

International organizations related to ocean science, as part of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its predecessors have a long history, almost 100 years. Collaborations among these organizations has been important to ocean science worldwide and reflecting on past and current interactions may be instructive for the future.

The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) was established in Brussels, Belgium, on July 28, 1919 during the Constitutive Assembly of the International Research Council (predecessor of ICSU, which was created in 1931). At the 1919 meeting in Brussels, a Section of Physical Oceanography was formed, with Prince Albert of Monaco as its first President.  In 1967, IAPO became the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO) and at the 1991 General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, IAPSO made a minor name change, revising it to the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans (plural).

SCOR’s development occurred later and in a more complicated evolution. In 1954, ICSU recommended that “a small committee be appointed to consider what problems of deep sea research, of a joint biological and geophysical nature, could usefully be studied in cooperation by the International Union of Biological Sciences and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics” (Wolff, 2010).  The five-person committee included two prominent IAPO officers, George Deacon and Harald Sverdrup, and was requested to report back to ICSU the following year.  (This committee came to be known as the ICSU Special Committee on Deep-Sea Research.) The committee reported that “we consider that an organization to promote cooperation in the oceanic sciences between IUBS and IUGG would be too limited.” (Wolff, 2010).  They recommended the establishment of a special committee of ICSU—the Special Committee for Oceanic Research—which would deal with aspects of oceanic science that could not be handled effectively by IAPO or by any other existing international body. The new committee should have representation from ICSU, IUGG (including IAPO); the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), and the International Geological Union (IGU). ICSU agreed with the recommendation to form the ICSU Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research.

The first SCOR meeting was held at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on 28-30 August 1957, (See more detailed SCOR history at One of the agenda topics was “the relationship between SCOR and other international organizations such as ICES, IAPO, IACOMS, etc.”  (Wolff, 2010).  At this meeting, SCOR approved the formation of its first five working groups (in 2014, SCOR had established 147 working groups).  These groups were largely focused on issues related to the International Geophysical Year (IGY) and the International Indian Ocean Expedition.  One of the first five groups (WG 4) was entitled “Physical Properties of Sea Water.”  (The groups were not fully launched until SCOR’s second meeting, in 1958.)  WG 4 was chaired by Håkon Mosby and other proposed members included Roland A. Cox, Carl Eckart, Arkadiĭ G. Kolesnikov, Karl E. Schleicher, Val Worthington, and Nikolai N. Zubov.  The group’s primary objectives were to appraise the accuracy of existing values of the physical constants and to encourage research leading to more accurate values. This was the first joint SCOR-IAPO working group.

SCOR and IAPO/IAPSO have continued a close working relationship since WG 4, including jointly sponsoring the following working groups and other activities:

•    Working Group 10 on Oceanographic Tables and Standards (see Lee, 1984; Morcos et al., 1990) – SCOR and IAPO (with ICES and UNESCO)—This group, better known as the Joint Panel on Oceanographic Tables and Standards (JPOTS), was formed in 1962.  Its purpose was to standardize some of the important oceanographic tables, such as the those relating chlorinity, salinity, density, conductivity, and refractive index.  As new, more accurate, measurement techniques became available, the equation of state of seawater had to be refined.  Upon the recommendation of JPOTS, the Practical Salinity Scale and 1980 International Equation of State of Seawater were adopted in 1982 by oceanographers internationally.  SCOR and IAPSO are combining their efforts to update the equation of state of seawater, through the work of SCOR/IAPSO Working Group 127 (see below).
•    Working Group 15 on Photosynthetic Radiant Energy – SCOR and IAPO (with UNESCO)
•    Working Group 21 on Continuous Current Velocity Measurements – SCOR and IAPO (with UNESCO)
•    Working Group 27 on Deep Sea Tides – IAPO and SCOR (with UNESCO)
•    Working Group 28 on Ocean-Atmosphere Interactions – SCOR and IAPSO (with IAMAP)
•    Working Group 34 on Internal Dynamics of the Ocean – SCOR and IAPSO
•    Working Group 35 on Methods of Quantitative Ecology of Coral Reefs – SCOR and IAPSO
•    Working Group 38 on Ocean Processes in the Antarctic – SCOR and IAPSO (with SCAR)
•    Working Group 42 on Pollution in the Baltic – SCOR, ICES, IAPSO, IABO
•    Working Group 43 on Oceanography Related to GATE – SCOR, IAMAP, IAPSO
•    Working Group 46 on River Inputs to Ocean Systems – SCOR, ECOR, IAHS, ACMRR, UNESCO, CMG, IAPSO, IABO
•    Working Group 48 on The Influence of the Ocean on Climate – SCOR and IAPSO
•    Working Group 49 on Mathematical Modelling of Oceanic Processes – SCOR and IAPSO
•    Working Group 50 on Biological Effects of Ocean Variability – SCOR, ACMRR, IAPSO, IABO
•    Working Group 53 on Evolution of the South Atlantic – SCOR, CMG, ICG, IAPSO, IABO
•    Working Group 55 on Prediction of El Nino – SCOR, IAMAP, IAPSO, ACMRR
•    Working Group 57 on Coastal and Estuarine Regimes – SCOR, IAPSO, ECOR, UNESCO
•    Working Group 58 on Arctic Ocean Heat Budget – SCOR, IAPSO
•    Working Group 64 on Oceanic Atoll Drilling – SCOR, CMG, IAPSO, UNESCO
•    IAPSO/SCOR Working Group 121 on Ocean Mixing
•    SCOR/LOICZ/IAPSO Working Group 122 on Mechanisms of Sediment Retention in Estuaries
•    SCOR/IAPSO Working Group 127 on Thermodynamics and Equation of State of Seawater
•    SCOR/IAPSO Working Group 129 on Deep Ocean Exchanges with the Shelf
•    SCOR/IAPSO Working Group 133: OceanScope
•    SCOR/WCRP/IAPSO Working Group 136: Climatic Importance of the Greater Agulhas System
•    SCOR/IOC Committee on Climate Change and the Ocean

•    SCOR/IAPSO Working Group 145: Chemical Speciation Modelling in Seawater to Meet 21st Century Needs (MARCHEMSPEC)


SCOR reformed its Executive Committee in 19__ to include the presidents of IABO, IAPSO, and IAMAS as ex officio members.  IAPSO representatives have attended nearly every SCOR annual meeting in the past 20 years.

IAPSO has been the most frequent co-sponsor of SCOR working groups since SCOR was formed, but there was a hiatus in IAPSO participation in SCOR working groups between WGs 64 (late 1970s) and WG 121 (formed in 2002) for unknown reasons.  The most recent working groups with IAPSO have involved joint approval of the terms of reference and memberships.  SCOR and IAPSO jointly submitted proposals and received grants from U.S. agencies for conferences of Working Groups 121 and 129.  (It is difficult for IAPSO to equally fund projects because it cannot charge dues and depends on a relatively small financial allocation from IUGG.) Two recent joint working groups, WGs 127 and 129, resulted from a process in which IAPSO identified important topics, stimulated the development of working group proposals, and co-approved group memberships and terms of reference with SCOR. SCOR does not limit its physical oceanography working groups to ideas suggested by IAPSO and IAPSO works with other organizations, but it is clear that the SCOR-IAPSO partnership has advanced important physical oceanography topics in ways that would have been difficult for either organization to achieve alone.  The past interactions provide a model for the future of SCOR cooperation with IAPSO, as well as with other ICSU associations and unions.

SCOR has also participated with IAPSO by holding its meetings in conjunction with IAPSO assemblies, in 1970, 2001, and 2005. Many joint IAPSO-SCOR working groups have held special sessions at IAPSO assemblies and/or have held their regular meetings in conjunction with an assembly.

Lee, A.  1984.  The ICES Hydrography Committee: A review of its activities since 1945.  Rapp. P.-v. Réun. Cons. Int. Explor. Mer. 185:7-29.
Morcos, D., A. Poisson, and O. Mamayev. 1990. Joint Panel on Oceanographic Tables and Standards: 25 Years of Achievements under the Umbrella of International Organizations. Pp. 344-356 in Ocean Sciences: Their History and Relation to Man. Proceedings of the 4th International Congress on the History of Oceanography W. Lenz and M. Deacon (eds.). Deutsche Hydrographische Zeitschrift. Hamburg, Germany.
Wolff, T.  2010.  The Birth and First Years of SCOR (Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research).