Established in 1957, SCOR was the first permanent interdisciplinary body formed by the International Council of Scientific Unions, now called the International Council for Science (ICSU). Recognition that the scientific problems of the ocean require a truly interdisciplinary approach was embodied in plans for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958, and the same approach was adopted by SCOR from its beginning. SCOR took the responsibility from 1957 to bring together ocean scientists from all parts of the world, through a variety of mechanisms, to advance ocean science and overcome barriers to understanding the ocean.
More than 2,000 individuals have been involved in SCOR since its beginning in 1957. The spreadsheet of these individuals can be downloaded here.
SCOR started a series of International Oceanographic Congresses in 1959, which later became the Joint Oceanographic Assemblies. These were major international meetings to bring together ocean scientists on a regular basis. Six of these meetings were held. The final JOA was held in 1988 because the meetings of professional societies were by then fulfilling the role that the JOAs had previously served.
For the next thirty years, the reputation of SCOR was largely based upon the successes of its scientific working groups. These small international groups address narrowly focused scientific topics (often new, "hot" topics in the field) that can benefit from international attention. Working groups must accomplish their objectives within a limited time frame, usually about four years. They are established in response to proposals from national committees for SCOR, other scientific organizations, or previous working groups. All working groups are expected to produce a final report, organize a workshop or symposium, or otherwise make a significant contribution to advancing understanding of their topic. SCOR working groups address topics that range from coastal modeling to the effects of marine phytoplankton on climate.
SCOR developed the first large-scale international ocean research project, the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE), which was born from a cascade of effects. The International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 had shown the value of coordinated multinational efforts in ocean science. This realization resulted in ICSU creating the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) to continue to stimulate international cooperation in ocean sciences. From its first annual meeting at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1957, SCOR identified the Indian Ocean as the greatest unknown in the global ocean and an area that could benefit from an intensive campaign of ocean observations. SCOR envisioned exploration of the Indian Ocean as its first task. The first four SCOR working groups were established to work on methodological issues to prepare for the IIOE, then were combined into SCOR WG 5. SCOR hired a Coordinator for the IIOE, Robert G. Snider, in 1959, and he continued in this post until the end of 1962, when management of the expedition was transferred to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
After a hiatus in large-scale international projects, by the early 1980s the promise of increased computing capabilities and new satellite instruments for remote sensing of the global ocean permitted oceanographers to conceive of internationally planned and implemented experiments of a scale never before possible. In fact, ocean scientists recognized that such large-scale programs are vital to understanding the ocean's role in Earth systems. The first two global-scale projects resulting from SCOR activities were primarily physical studies: the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) and the Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere Study (TOGA). Both grew out of SCOR's former Committee on Climatic Changes and the Ocean, which was a joint activity with IOC. TOGA provided much new understanding of El Niño and developed the capability to predict the occurrence of El Niño events with reasonable accuracy; the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) was a co-sponsor of TOGA and later the main driver of this project. WOCE and TOGA have completed their work.
Since the late 1980s, SCOR has played a major role in fostering the development of several other large-scale ocean research projects. The Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) focused on the role of the ocean in the global carbon cycle and completed its work in 2003. The Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) project is concerned with the relationship between physical and biological variability in the ocean and how global change might impact the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems, with particular emphasis on important fisheries. JGOFS was co-sponsored by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and GLOBEC is co-sponsored by IGBP and IOC. SCOR and IGBP developed the Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research (IMBER) project and with IGBP, the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution (CACGP) developed the Surface Ocean - Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS).
SCOR and IOC have developed an international program--Global Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (GEOHAB)--with a focus on obtaining an understanding of the ecological and oceanographic conditions that cause harmful algal blooms and promote their development. GEOTRACES is the latest project developed through SCOR sponsorship, which will study the global biogeochemical cycles of trace elements and their isotopes.
In the beginning, SCOR’s elected Secretary or President provided the necessary secretariat function. In 1972, a part-time Executive Secretary was appointed at the Royal Society (UK) to assist the elected Secretary. In 1985, as the scope and activities of SCOR had grown substantially, the Executive Secretary became a full-time employee; the title was changed to Executive Director in 1990. The Secretariat moved over the years from the Royal Society (UK) to Dalhousie University (Canada) in 1980, to Johns Hopkins University (USA) in 1992, and to the University of Delaware (USA) in 2007.