Oceanography is a multidisciplinary science that requires large and expensive facilities such as research ships, powerful computers, and the sophisticated instrumentation required for sampling and monitoring the ocean. So the world's oceanographic centres not only have a nucleus of full-time research staff but also technical support staff that service the equipment, computers, and ships. They also service a network of academic and industrial researchers and postgraduates who depend to a greater or lesser extent on the special facilities. Most of the major centres are on the coast, where the research ships can tie up alongside, and close to transport networks. Research ships on scientific missions to remote regions need to be serviced in ports, so close proximity to an international airport is an important asset.
Some centres are focused on the ocean near where they are situated. For example, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, which is situated at the head of a deep canyon, is associated with an impressive public aquarium. This exhibits real-time images collected by underwater vehicles that are used to investigate the inhabitants of the canyon. Another centre that is principally devoted to one specific facility is Harbor Branch in Florida. It runs the two Johnson Sea Link manned underwater vehicles which have plexiglass domes that are ideal for biologists since they give remarkably good all-round viewing. Some of the laboratories focus their researches on specific areas, like the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies (IOASOS) in Hobart, Tasmania, which, as its name suggests, focuses on studies of the Southern Ocean.
Some owe their existence to specific research projects, like the Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC) in Britain, which originated from the Discovery Investigations. SOC was founded in 1994 through the amalgamation of the University of Southampton's Departments of Oceanography and Geology, and the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences that was then a government-funded laboratory run under the aegis of the Natural Environment Research Council. Although SOC no longer continues the work of the Discovery Investigations, which is now conducted by the British Antarctic Survey, it accommodates the independent unit that runs the UK's research ships. Other oceanographic centres include the laboratories at Plymouth where the emphasis is on marine biology, at Liverpool where the emphasis is on tides, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science laboratory at Oban, which focuses on the fascinating waters around Scotland where the Darwin mounds were found.
One of the oldest of all oceanography centres is the Scripps Institution at La Jolla near San Diego, California, which was founded in 1903 as an independent research laboratory for marine biology, but is now concerned with all the oceanographic disciplines. It became part of the University of California in 1912, when it was given the Scripps name in recognition of its supporters Ellen Browning Scripps and E. W. Scripps. It has a staff of approximately 1,300, including about 90 faculty scientists, nearly 300 other scientists, and about 200 graduate students, and it runs four research vessels. The institution's annual expenditure totals more than $US140 million. On the opposite seaboard of the USA, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is another of the better-known oceanographic institutes, Woods Hole (WHOI), which is close to the Georges Bank, still a major centre for commercial fisheries in the North Atlantic. WHOI has a mission that is typical of many oceanographic institutes which is to develop and effectively communicate a fundamental understanding of the processes and characteristics governing how the oceans function and how they interact with the earth as a whole.