- The appearance of personal computers in the mid-1980s transformed the conduct of oceanographic research in ways that are now familiar as well as in ways that are now only beginning to be perceived and understood. The first Macintosh computers and IBM personal computers (PCs) were marketed primarily to the technical and educational communities, which eagerly embraced them. More powerful, UNIX-based scientific workstations also began to appear at about the same time, supporting more complex data analysis and even numerical modeling tasks. Within a few years, the reliance on academic computing centers to support modeling and data analysis had largely disappeared. The emphasis was on local, desktop computing supported by networked access to centrally managed services such as high-volume data storage, printing, email, and high-end computation. The inexorable march of Moore’s Law (the doubling of the number of transistors on integrated circuits—a rough measure of computer processing power—every 18 months) brought more computational power to the desktop, blurring the distinction between the PC and the UNIX workstation in terms of performance. Network bandwidth in local area networks also increased rapidly, going from 10 megabits/s to 10 gigabits/s in 15 years (roughly a doubling every 18 months, equivalent to Moore’s Law for the transistor count). Disk capacity initially increased at a slower rate, though for the last several years it has increased faster than Moore’s Law, doubling nearly every year. Along with dramatic drops in price, these forces have led to the now-familiar proliferation of computational, storage, and display capacity that was once the sole province of sophisticated computer centers at government laboratories and universities. Software followed a similar path of growth in capability and decrease in cost. Of particular note to the research community is the expansion of interpreted languages, such as Matlab® and Mathematica®, which allow the researcher to construct sophisticated processing streams using simplified language constructs, standard building blocks, and functions. For example, multiplying two matrices is one line of code rather than a complex set of nested loops. For oceanographers, as for scientists in general, these capabilities have greatly simplified the tasks of data collection, analysis, presentation, and publication. Moreover, PCs and workstations could be taken onboard ship to control data collection and data analysis in near real time. Oceanographers could conduct sophisticated analyses at sea and use the results to refine or revise sampling strategies to study specific processes and features of interest.
- Abbott, M. R., and Sears, C. E., 2006, The always-connected world and its impacts on ocean research: Oceanography, v. 19, p. 14-21.