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Henry Melson Stommel papers

 Record Group
Identifier: MC-06

Scope and Content Note

The Henry Melson Stommel papers span the years 1946-1996 with the bulk dating from 1970-1992. The collection reflects the varied scientific interests of Henry Melson Stommel, regarded by some as perhaps the most important physical oceanographer of all time and the founder of the field of dynamical oceanography in the US. Its primary focus is the scientific work that engrossed him for over 41 years. A large portion of the collection consists of drafts and research for scientific books and articles, most of which he wrote after returning to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1978 after years teaching at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institution of Technology. Although there is relatively little purely personal information, Stommel's colleagues often became his friends, so many letters contain some personal information. His correspondence, with scientific figures of the day, is wide-ranging.

Location of Disks

Note: All 5-l/4" disks were transferred to 3-l/2" disks

All the computer disks listed in the container list were removed from their folders and placed in the document box at the end series. Files were organized into folders with the same numbers as the original disks and bundled in a .zip file along with Dublin Core metadata. The .zip file is stored with other electronic records. See the Electronic Records series description below. The original locations of the disks are listed in the following table:

Disk 1, box 6 folder 21

Disk 2, box 11 folder 2

Disk 3, box 12 folder 25

Disk 4, box 13 folder 33

Disk 5, box 13 folder 35

Disks 6,7,8, boxes 16/17 folders 65-68

Disk 9, box 17 folder 69

Disk 10, box 17 folder 70

Disk 11, box 17 folders 71-72

Disks 12,13, boxes 17/18 folders 2-6

Disk 14, box 24 folder 67

Disks 15,16,17, box 27 folder 7

Disk 18, box 27 folders 8, 14-15

Disk 19, box 27 folder 17

Disk 20, box 28 folder 19

Disks 21,22, box 28 folder 22

Disk 23, box 28 folder 27

Disks 24-30, box 28 folder 32

Disks 31-33, box 28 folder 37

Disks 34-37, box 29 folder 45

Disk 38, box 29 folder 51

Disks 39-40, box 29 folder 55

Disks 41-42, box 30 folder 62

Disk 43, box 28 folder 21

Index to Correspondents in Series II, Correspondence

Routine business correspondence has not been included in the index.

1949: Letter to: Pres. Sproul, President, University of California. Letter from: Pres. Sproul, President, University of California.

1950: Letters from: Columbus Iselin, H.C. Daives, University of Chicago.

1951: Letter to: Donald Pritchard, Chesapeake Bay Institute. Letter from: Yale University.

1952: Letter to: Louis Benjamin. Letters from: Louis Benjamin, Richard M. Elliott.

1953: Letters to: Manuel d'Azevedo Castro Neves, Paul Henson, Grenge League Federation, H.E. Babcock. Letters from: Paul Henson, C. Ewing.

1954: Letter from: Manuel Neves.

1960: Letters to: Columbus Iselin, A.F. Spilhaus, E.B. Wilson, Paul M. Fye. Letters from: Paul M. Fye.

1961: Letters from: Joanne S. Malkus, N.B. McLean.

1964: Letters to: Dr. Chuji Tsuboi [?], Dr. Norman P. Neureoter [?], Prof. Kiyou Wadfat.

1965: Letter from: Thomas H. Hamilton, University of Hawaii.

1966: Letters to: Dr. Richard Bader.

1967: Letters from: Bernard Saint-Gueley [?].

1969: Letters from: Charles L. Osterberg, Warren S. Wooster, Edward Fredkin Charitable Foundation.

1970: Letters from: Alan J. Faller, Brian J. Skinner, Gad Assaf, Walter H. Munk.

1971: Letters to: Prof. A.S. Monin, Feenan Jennings, John Knauss, N.D. Bank, Roberto Frassetto, R.J. Smith, Allan Robinson, Arthur Maxwell, Nelson Hogg, George Veronis. Letters from:

Ledolph Baer, Melvin E. Stern, Nelson Hogg, N.D. Bang, Antonio Marussi, Mark Winbush, Fred A. Donath, John R. Apel, A. Leetman, L. Fovin, George F. Carrier, Antonio Marussi, Mike

Gregg, J. Joseph, Richard Vetter, Michael Czepan, John Swallow, C.H. Mortimer, G.M. Corcos, Bertil Ostrom, F. Fedorov.

1972: Letters from: Mary Sears, Henri Lacombe, Nelson Hogg, Theodore D. Foster. Letters to: Theodore D. Foster.

1973: Letters from: Dr. Michele Fieux, Prof. Henri Lacombe. Letter to: Dr. Michele Fieux.

1975: Letters from: Mrs. J. Swallow, George Veronis.

1978: Letter from: Yeh Tu-Cheng.

1980: Letter from: Allan R. Robinson, F.G. Wood, Edwin Bryan, Jr.

1981: Letters from: Donald Parson, Jesse Swinson.

1982: Letter from: Michele Fieux, Donald Parson, John D. Post.

1983: Letters from: Andrew David, Dr. Charles E.S. Arps, H.E. Landsberg, Dr. M. Samuels, R. Caborloc, Peter H. Raven. Letters to: Dr. Morton F. Meads, Dr. Marwyn S. Samuels.

1984: Letters from: Henri Lacombe, A.C.F. David, Dr. Deacon, Dr. I. Shearer, Eric Wanner, Lucy Fromin. Letters to: Bob Millard, Bruce Warren, Dr. Gagosian, J.F. Gilbert, Carl Wunsch.

1985: Letters from: George Veronis, L. Talley. Letters to: Academician L. Brekhovskilt, Raymond C. Smith, Dr. Walter Brundage, Mr. Yashushi Fukamachi.

1986: Letters to: R.C. Beardsley, Mrs. S.M. Usher. Letters from: Anthony H. Knap.

1987: Letters from: Konstantin Nicholaevich Fedorov, John R. Adel, Wilton Sturges, Larry P. Atkinson. Letters to: Dr. Wilton Sturges, Dr. Joseph Keller.

1988: Letters from: Haraldur Sigurdsson, Eric Mollo-Christensen, Karl K. Turekian. Letters to: Prof. Michael Mullen.

1989: Letters to: Allen Peterson, Dr. Freeman Gilhart.

1990: Letters from: Jim Pria, Jonathan Werner, I.O.S. Wormley, Carl A. Friehl, Pierre Welander, A.I. Fel'Zenbaum, Dr. Roy M. Greer, Zinovy I. Kizner. Letters to: Russ Davis, Prof. Lillian Hornig, Dr. Craig Dorman, Prof. J.E. Kutzbach.

1991: Letters from: W.S. Broecker, Freeman Gilbert, Mary and John Swallow, R. Ballard, Peter Killworth, Richard Lambert, Jr. Letters to: Roy M. Green, Larry P. Atkinson, Prof. M.B. Ariyapala, Editor, Ocean Modeling, Dr. Robert Knox, Dr. Vincent Courtillot, Prof. Christian Moers.


  • 1946-1996

Language of Materials

The records are in



Open: materials are available for research.


Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist.

Biographical Information

Henry Melson Stommel was born in Wilmington, Delaware on September 27, 1920. He was the first child of Marian Estelle Melson and Walter Herman Karl Stommel. A year after his birth, his father, a chemist, moved the family to Sweden. A year later, his mother left Sweden when she was pregnant with Henry's sister Anne, and never returned. She initially went to Wilmington but soon moved an extended family to Brooklyn, New York, where she supported them.

Henry Stommel attended New York Public Schools and then received a full scholarship to Yale University where he studied astronomy, graduating in 1942. He spent the postgraduate years l942-1944 at the Yale Observatory and concurrently studied at the Yale Divinity School. Lyman Spitzer Jr. helped him obtain employment at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in September 1944. He worked first with Maurice Ewing and then with Jeffreys Wyman, working on the results of trade cumulus.

He took two leaves of absence from WHOI, which he thought important to his development: the first, in 1946 to study with C.G. Rossby at the University of Chicago; and the second, from 1946-1947 to the Imperial College in London. Stommel remained at WHOI until l959, when he accepted an offer from Harvard University to teach. He was prompted to accept this position because of his disagreement with the policies of WHOI's director, Paul Fye. The years he spent at Harvard (1960-1963) were not happy ones, however, and at the end of that period he joined the Department of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institution of Technology, where he remained for sixteen years. When Fye retired as director, Stommel returned to WHOI, where he remained until his death in 1992.

In l948 he published a paper which marked the birth of the field of dynamical oceanography in the US. Over the next forty-four years he came to be considered the most important physical oceanographer of his time.

Henry Stommel was married on December 6, 1950 to Elizabeth Huntington Brown (b. October 26, 1926), known as Chickie. They had three children: Matthew, Elijah, and Abigail Stommel Adams.

For other biographical accounts, see:

  1. Hogg, Nelson and Huang, Rui Zin, eds.The Collected Works of Henry Stommel, Vol. I. Preface, 1995. (This includes an unpublished portion of Henry Stommel's autobiography,The Sea of the Beholder. Drafts of the entire manuscript are located in Stommel's papers.)
  2. Oceanus, Vol. 35, Special Issue, 1992, "A tribute to Henry Stommel."
  3. Veronis, George. “Henry Melson Stommel, 27 September, 1920-17 January, 1992.”Journal of Marine Research 50 (1992), i-viiii.
  4. Wunsch, Carl. “Henry Stommel, September 27, 1920-January 17, 1992.”Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 72 (1997), 331-350.
  5. In addition, WHOI’s oral history collection has two audiotapes, entitled "Carl Wunsch's interview with Chickie Stommel 8/24/95".
  6. The Film Vault also contains an audiotape and a videotape (T-39) entitled “Celebrating the publication of the Henry Stommel Collection 3/8/1996”.


38 boxes (19.75 lin. ft.)


The Henry Melson Stommel papers, spanning the years 1946-1996 with the bulk dating from 1970-1992, reflect the varied scientific interests of Henry Melson Stommel, regarded by some as perhaps the most important physical oceanographer of all time and the founder of the field of dynamical oceanography in the US.

Custodial History

On April 6, l992, the WHOI Archives removed approximately 43 boxes of materials from the Stommel home at 766 Palmer Avenue, Falmouth. An additional 18 boxes were removed from Stommel's office in the Clark Building (Room 310A of the Physical Oceanography Department) on April 29, 1992, as well as three instruments: l) a 2" lead ball on a tether; 2) a demonstration model to illustrate the Corioliis force; 3) an Ashton brass double spring steam pressure gage 0-500 lbs.

Acquisitions Information

The Henry Melson Stommel papers were given to the WHOI Archives on April 6, 1992 by Mrs. Stommel. In 1996 the Physical Oceanography Department gave the archives two boxes that contained materials relating to the 1995 publication of The Collected Works of Henry Stommel. These materials were condensed into a box and a document box and added as the Book Compilation Materials series to Stommel’s collection. In November 1999 Jim Luyten, Associate Director for Research, gave the archives 3 folders; these were integrated into the collection in January 2000.

Related Material

WHOI ARCHIVES: The papers of James Luyten, Manuscript Collection MC 32, contain correspondence, proposals, and project materials that Luyten and Stommel collaborated on. The records of the Office of the Director contain folders about Henry Stommel, including personnel information with photographs and newsclippings; public relations information concerning the celebration of the publication of his Collected Works; and his grants and contracts. Box 24, f. 39 – Personnel 1953-1957 Box 26, f. 26 – Personnel, 1960-1962 Box 27, f. 23 – Grants and Contracts NSF G8189, 1958-1959 Box 28, f. 23 – Grants and Contracts, Bur. of Aeronautics, Noas-51-009-c, contract C, 1950-1951 Box 116, f.14 – Correspondence 1983

The Audio Collection has the following tapes: "Carl Wunsch's Interview with Chickie Stommel, 8/24/95" (2 tapes); and an interview with Henry Stommel concerning “The growth of Woods Hole and current status and future of research”, August 15, 1977, not transcribed (2 master tapes and 2 improved DVP’s).

The Instrument Collection has three instruments described in the custodial history note.

WHOI’s Biographical Files also contain information and photographs of Stommel.

PHYSICAL OCEANOGRAPHY DEPARTMENT: The Physical Oceanography Department library (and The Data Library and Archives) contain a copy of a rough draft of: Atlas of the Deep, Stroup and Stommel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass. This is the only work not listed in the Collected Works of Henry Stommel.

MIT, INSTITUTE ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS: Archival collection AC 42- Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment (MODE), contains material relating to Stommel. The collection includes correspondence from 1958, 1969-1974, and proposals. Stommel was a driving force behind the plans for the experiment, and corresponded with an international roster of scientists, many of whom were involved in MODE.

SCRIPPS INSTITUTE OF OCEANOGRAPHY, ARCHIVES: One or more letters by Stommel can be found in the following manuscript collections: Robert Siple Arthur papers, Accession 96-6; Carl Eckart papers MC 22; Walter Munk papers MC 17; Roger Revelle papers MC 6

  1. Robert Siple Arthur papers, Accession 96-6
  2. Carl Eckart papers MC 22
  3. Walter Munk papers MC 17
  4. Roger Revelle papers MC 6

Separated Material

All the computer disks listed in the container list were removed from their folders and placed in the document box at the end series. The ‘Location of Disks’ serves as another index to these disks. See the Electronic Records series for more information.

Materials removed from the collection include: three instruments placed in the WHOI Historic Instrument Collection; a wooden box and a cardboard box of lantern slides placed in the film vault; and 2 audio-tapes of an “Interview with Chickie Stommel and Carl Wunsch/MIT Professor, 8/24/95” added to the oral history collection. Published copies of his works were removed from the collection, as were general reprints that had not been arranged in any order.

Processing Information

Processed by Nancy Kougeas. The 61 boxes received in April 1992 were consolidated into 48 boxes during l992 or l993, before the collection was processed. Because of this consolidation, coupled with the fact that Henry Stommel had changed the order of folders and also destroyed many items, the original filing arrangement of the collection often could not be ascertained. Any existing order within the collection was retained, although most of the materials needed to be re-arranged. During processing, basic preservation measures were taken, staples were removed and copying done as necessary. Processing of the Electronic Records series was completed by Venessa Cancio in June 2012.

A Guide to the the Henry Melson Stommel papers, 1946-1996
Nancy Kougeas
May 1998
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish

Repository Details

Part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Data Library and Archives Repository