Classic Papers from the Journal of Marine Research
Journal of Marine Research Classic Papers

This Month's Featured Classic Paper


A bathythermograph

By A.F. Spilhaus

Journal of Marine Research 1937–1938

Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 95–100


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Editor's Commentary


In this classic, Athelstan Spilhaus reports on his progress on a prototype of the mechanical bathythermograph, a project that C.-G. Rossby encouraged him to pursue. Although now most often seen in museums or on movie sets (they look a bit like rockets), bathythermographs were extremely influential from the later 1930s into the 1950s. These remarkable, durable instruments allowed continuous traces of temperature versus depth (previously measured as bottle temperatures at 50 m separations), and so opened up an entirely new vision of what ocean thermal structure actually looks like. Spilhaus provides some actual data, but gives no interpretation for these entirely novel measurements.


The bathythermograph proved to be extremely useful for submarine warfare during the Second World War, when it became understood that the sharp thermal structures observed with a bathythermograph strongly influenced sound propagation and its diurnal variability in the ocean.


Spilhaus had a distinguished academic career at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and at the University of Minnesota. Many of us remember his weekly newspaper comic strip “Our New Age,” which introduced scientific concepts to the general public. —Ken Brink, Editor