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James R. Luyten papers pertaining to Henry Stommel

 Record Group
Identifier: MC-32

Scope and Content Note

The James R. Luyten papers span the years 1952 to 1993, the bulk of which covers 1980 to 1992. Luyten worked closely with Stommel on many different projects, including research grants for the National Science Foundation, SLOCUMs, and a book on interactive computer programs, called A View of the Sea. These materials created in partnership with Stommel include correspondence, drafts of reports and book chapters, graphs, and other research materials.

In addition, Luyten collected documents written by and about Stommel, including Stommel's correspondence outside of work-related activities, his institutional-related research (for instance, Stommel was very passionate about supporting the MBLWHOI Library's journal subscriptions), his journal publications, his National Medal of Science application, and other documents that Stommel shared with Luyten. Luyten collected many of these documents in order to create the special edition of Oceanus magazine, which was published in 1992 and dedicated to the memory of Stommel after his death earlier that year. Luyten also saved drafts of Stommel's obituary and other materials related to his death.


  • 1952-1993

Language of Materials

The records are in English.


Open: materials are available for research.


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

Biographical Information

Jim Luyten

James R. Luyten served as acting President and Director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from July 2006 to February 2008. Previously, he was appointed Director of Research in 1994 and Executive President in 2002, and he held other administrative positions at the Institution, including chair of the Physical Oceanography Department. He first came to the Institution in 1968 as a summer fellow in geophysical fluid dynamics, and he joined the staff as an assistant scientist in 1971. Luyten holds a bachelor's degree from Reed College in chemistry and physics and a master's degree and doctorate in chemical physics from Harvard University.

While at WHOI, Luyten's area of research was the observation and modeling of ocean currents, including the general circulation of the North Atlantic, Gulf Stream, and equatorial current systems. Luyten frequently collaborated with Henry Stommel, and he was responsible for creating a special edition of WHOI's Oceanus magazine, which was published in 1992 and dedicated to the memory of Stommel after his death earlier that year.

Hank Stommel

Henry "Hank" M. Stommel arrived in Woods Hole in the summer of 1942, a time when oceanography was still in its infancy and the ocean was still a blank slate for scientists to explore. He remained affiliated with the Institution for much of the next 48 years, until his death on January 17, 1992. During that time, he fundamentally transformed oceanography and knowledge about the ocean, leaving behind a legacy that lives on in the theories he developed and the people he touched. "Science," he wrote, "is a voyage of intellectual exploration and an expression of the human spirit."

Many aspects of modern oceanography benefited from Stommel’s curiosity. He is probably best known for major advances in the 1940s and 1950s that form the basis for today's understanding of global ocean circulation. In particular, he determined that Earth's rotation and curvature are essential in producing strong currents, such as the Gulf Stream on the western side of every ocean basin, and that changes in the density of seawater caused by differences in temperature and salinity contribute to the formation of deep oceanic flows.

His vision and foresight led to the creation of two comprehensive and unparalleled studies of global ocean processes: the Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment (MODE) and the Geochemical Ocean Section Study (GEOSECS). These two initiatives fundamentally changed understanding of the ocean system and helped usher in the era of modern physical and chemical oceanographic research. They also gave countless oceanographers the opportunity to go to sea, something that Stommel believed strongly in, in part to experience the object of their studies but also to help form the individual. "Work at sea rubs off the sharp edges and makes us better people," he once wrote.

Henry Melson Stommel was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 27, 1920. When he was very young, his family moved to his father's native Sweden, but his mother later returned with her son to Wilmington, and Stommel remained separated from his father for the rest of his life. In 1925, his mother moved again, this time to Brooklyn, New York, to live with several of her family members, including her father, Levin Franklin Melson. By many accounts, Melson was a quiet, thoughtful man who encouraged his grandson's early interest in science. Stommel eventually attended Yale University, starting in chemistry and then switching to physics before graduating in 1942.

As a conscientious objector to the war, he was required to complete three years of work out of uniform, so he chose to remain at Yale and teach analytic geometry and celestial navigation to Navy officer candidates and enlisted sailors. It was during this time that Stommel began training for the ministry, but he stopped after one semester when he found it too intellectually confining.

In 1944, when Stommel was in his second year as an astronomy graduate student at Yale, he met famed astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer. It was becoming clear that, like his recent foray into divinity, astronomy was not suited to Stommel, so Spitzer suggested he apply to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Stommel joined the WHOI staff at a time when the Institution was being transformed from a summer-only field station into an important and bustling part of the US war effort. He began by helping develop instruments for submarines and instructing naval officers in their use. Later, he worked with Maurice Ewing on acoustics research and anti-submarine warfare. Eventually, he met Jeffries Wyman, who was studying cumulus convection, a subject that Stommel found fascinating and that led to his first scientific paper in 1946.

His publications eventually grew to include some 140 scientific papers, 12 books, and 65 other articles and papers. His list of honors includes membership in the national science academies of the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the former USSR and recognitions from the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Sciences. In 1982, he received the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the US National Medal of Science in 1989.

What was equally remarkable about Stommel was the breadth and intensity of his curiosity and his amazingly diverse interests (he was also an accomplished printer, painter, gentleman farmer, and fiction writer). His colleagues often described a scientific conversation with Stommel as an encounter that required their full and undivided attention and one that often proved well worth the physical and intellectual effort.

Stommel was well known for his generosity with his ideas. He sparked many new research directions for scientists and initiated a number of international oceanographic studies. He was also, somewhat paradoxically, an early proponent of the development of autonomous underwater vehicles and sensors, a trend that today results in fewer scientists having to spend days and weeks at sea.

In their introduction to a 1992 special issue of Oceanus magazine, Stommel's colleagues Jim Luyten and Nelson Hogg wrote, “For most of the past 50 years, [he] was the most influential figure in oceanography. Through his simple brilliance, his personal magnetism, and his great zest for life, he inspired legions of oceanographers.”

[Stommel's biography taken from his WHOI employee portrait. Edited by Katy Sternberger.]


.75 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


The James R. Luyten papers, dating from 1952 to 1993, consist of materials pertaining to the life of Henry M. Stommel. Luyten worked closely with Stommel on many different projects, which are represented by the correspondence and drafts of reports and book chapters contained in this collection. Luyten also collected documents written by and about Stommel, including Stommel's National Medal of Science application and materials related to a special edition of Oceanus magazine, which was published in 1992 and dedicated to the memory of Stommel after his death earlier that year.


Arranged in two series.

Custodial History

The custodial history of the collection is undocumented.

Acquisitions Information

The papers were donated by Jim Luyten's office and arrived at the Data Library and Archives in late 1999. The materials were accessioned on March 18, 2000 (acc. 2000-05).

Related Material

See also the Henry Melson Stommel papers, MC-06. Some of the materials in Luyten's collection and Stommel's collection are the same or very similar.

The special edition of WHOI's Oceanus magazine that was dedicated to the memory of Henry Stommel is available in the MBLWHOI Library's print holdings and online. See volume 35 (special issue), which was published in 1992.

Stommel's oral history interview is also available.

Separated Material

A copy of Oceanography magazine (volume 2, number 2, published in November 1989), which contains an article written by Stommel, was removed from the collection. See the separation sheet in the folder containing Stommel's publications. The magazine is available in the MBLWHOI Library's print holdings as well as online. It is not known whether any other material was separated from the collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Katy Sternberger in April 2015. Items were foldered and arranged chronologically, or in original order if undated. Two series were created based on the division between items Luyten created and the items he collected. Basic preservation measures were taken (that is, removing staples). In addition, items printed on thermal paper, which is poor-quality material, were photocopied and the originals destroyed. Personally identifiable information was redacted. Extra copies and materials irrelevant to the collection were removed and destroyed.

A Guide to the James R. Luyten papers pertaining to Henry Stommel, 1952-1993
Katy Sternberger
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