NBA History of Science Seminar – Niels Bohr Archive

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Niels Bohr Archive > Calendar > 1999-2011 > Ronald E. Doel

NBA History of Science Seminar

Ronald E. Doel , "The Military Constitution of the Environmental Sciences in America."

The emergence of the environmental sciences in America is often thought to coincide with the recognition of environmental problems such as nuclear fallout and destructive pesticide use, symbolized by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962).

Ronald E. Doel, Assistant Professor, Program for History of Science, Department of History, Oregon State University, USA.

Yet the U.S. military also played a critical role in constituting the environmental sciences, and began to do so much earlier, in the years immediately following World War II. It influenced these disciplines by supporting research into the interactions between disparate realms of the earth sciences (among them meteorology and oceanography) in order to understand "environmental" influences on the conduct of future warfare, as well as the deployment of weapons systems such as guided missiles.

Drawing on recently declassified archival sources, I examine how military patronage shaped the modern environmental sciences after 1945, including the creation of new academic departments and programs, the coordination of geophysical research programs to address pressing military needs (among them knowledge of polar melting), and the promotion of new interdisciplinary research into earth sciences phenomena on a global scale.

The Department of Defense has a vital interest in the environmental sciences since the military services must have an understanding of, and an ability to predict and even to control the environment in which it is required to operate. The environment in which the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps will operate covers the entire globe and extends from the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of interplanetary space. Throughout this zone of operation, the Department of Defense must maintain and operate lines of supply and communication; it is obvious then that Defense has a mandate to extend its research to cover the entire planet on which we live and to the feasible limits of outer space.
Department of Defense report, International Science Activities, Nov. 1961