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Dean Bumpus: Tracking Ocean Currents

20 January 2023

From Petty Officer 1st Class Clayton Boyd, Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. - Naval Meteorology and Oceanographic Command recognizes Dean Bumpus for his outstanding dedication and achievements in oceanography.

Dean Franklin Bumpus (1912-2002), an oceanographer employed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), presented an illustrious career with accomplishments ranging from marine life surveys to complex current data collection still in use today.

During his tenure at WHOI, where eventually he would reach the title of Scientist Emeritus, Bumpus completed what many consider to be the first comprehensive survey of marine life in Georges Bank, a large elevated area of the sea floor between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. With data collected during the 1939-1941 Atlantis survey, Bumpus collaborated with George Clarke to provide a three-dimensional data set for plankton, larval fish, and hydrography over two winter/spring periods. The Clark-Bumpus plankton sampler is still of value more than 60 years later to biologists working on Georges Bank within the Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) program.

Dean Bumpus’s career in oceanography wasn’t restricted solely to the civilian sector, as during World War II Dean, alongside Allyn Vine, he instructed U.S. submariners on the bathythermograph, an instrument that assisted in measuring and utilizing temperature and density gradients of sub-surface water to avoid acoustic detection by enemy vessels. During and immediately following the war, Bumpus worked with the Office of Scientific Research and Development on submarine warfare, as well as heading the Oceanographic Support office for Radiological Safety Reconnaissance as a part of Operation Crossroads in 1946, the nuclear weapon test series conducted in at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Perhaps his most notable achievement, was the culmination of years spent tracking surface and bottom currents in the western North Atlantic through use of surface drift bottles and seabed drifters. Placed in various areas along the North Atlantic currents, Bumpus relied on “return to sender” notes placed within the bottles to track final destinations. Although the exact amount of surface drifters remains unknown, 165,566 bottles were released during the 1960’s alone by ships and planes, with an additional 75,485 seabed drifters. Data collected from both instruments has provided invaluable information of surface and bottom circulation along the continental shelf of eastern North America. Drift bottles are still returned every so often to WHOI.

Long-time colleagues remember Bumpus as a generous, good-natured, and exuberant man whose characteristics brought a warm depth to WHOI. In his professional setting, Bumpus has been stated as a “WHOI hall of famer” and as “one of the real WHOI giants of the early days.”

U.S. Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command directs and oversees more than 2,500 globally-distributed military and civilian personnel who collect, process and exploit environmental information to assist Fleet and Joint Commanders in all warfare areas to make better decisions, based on assured environmental information, faster than the adversary.


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