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Nicholas P. Fofonoff papers

 Record Group
Identifier: MC-38

Scope and Content Note

The Nicholas P. Fofonoff papers consist of 23 boxes (9.25 linear feet) that span the years 1961-1994. The material covers his years at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, including memos and correspondence created during his tenure as Physical Oceanography Department Chairman and Buoy Group manager. Also included are presentations and lectures from classes he taught at Harvard and WHOI, as well as considerable correspondence between Fofonoff and colleague, Ferris Webster.


  • 1961-1994

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

Dr. Nicholas Fofonoff was born August 18, 1929 in Queenstown, Canada. He completed his B.A. and M.A. at the University of British Columbia. He first came to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as a summer fellow in 1952 and again in 1953 when he was a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University. He received his Ph.D. in 1955. Following a postdoctoral year at the National Institute of Oceanography in England and six years on the staff of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Fofonoff came to the Institution in 1961 to participate in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics program. In 1962 he was appointed to the scientific staff. The following year he was appointed Senior Scientist. From 1968-1986 he was a Professor of the Practice of Physical Oceanography at Harvard University and Associate of the Center for Earth and Planetary Physics from 1971-1986.

Nick Fofonoff served as the Department Chairman for the Physical Oceanography Department at WHOI from 1967-1971 and from 1981-1985. He was active in the management of the Buoy Group at WHOI for many years. He received the Henry Stommel Research Award from the American Meteorological Society in 1988. Fofonoff served on various scientific committees and was involved in several international projects including MODE (Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment); POLYMODE (Joint US-USSR Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment); WOCE (World Ocean Circulation Experiment); and IWEX (Internal Wave Experiment).

His research interests include the dynamics of ocean circulation, physical properties and thermodynamics of seawater, and the development of mooring technology and reliable current measurement. These were all major areas of inquiry for the Russian/American POLYMODE project, which took place from 1975 to 1981 and for which Fofonoff served on the organizing committee. His knowledge of the Russian language aided in the success of the partnership.

Fofonoff was a leader in the development and introduction of the now standard Practical Salinity Scale. His later research focused on the Gulf Stream. Dr. Fofonoff retired from the Institution in December of 1991. He is currently a Scientist Emeritus.


23 boxes (11.5 lin. ft.)


The Nicholas P. Fofonoff papers span the years 1961-1994 and include material that covers his years at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution during his tenure as Physical Oceanography Department Chairman and Buoy Group manager. Also included are presentations and lectures from classes he taught at Harvard and WHOI.


The papers are divided into six series:

Custodial History

The custodial history of the records is undocumented.

Acquisitions Information

Nicholas P. Fofonoff donated his papers to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Data Library and Archives (DLA) in 1999.

Related Material

Dr. Fofonoff was interviewed as part of the Office of Naval Research project, Oceanography: The making of science. This oral history is available in the DLA.

Processing Information

Third-level processing completed in March 2001 by Lisa M. Raymond. Processing of this collection was partly supported by a grant from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics.

The papers were put in acid free folders. Paper clips and staples were removed. Newspaper clippings, overhead transparencies and acidic items were photocopied. Notebooks were cut and the contents put in folders and labeled. The files were consolidated and put into acid free boxes.

A Guide to the the Nicholas P. Fofonoff papers, 1961-1994
Lisa M. Raymond
March 2001
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