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Bob and Anne James: Leadership in a Crisis

In the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, dozens of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution chemists, biologists, physical oceanographers and engineers launched research to understand this unprecedented event and its potential environmental impacts. The federal government asked WHOI to muster an arsenal of singular vehicles and instruments to acquire and interpret critical data in the depths where the broken wellhead lay. They provided advice to federal agencies managing the spill, testimony to Congress and other government officials, and independent information to the media and the public.

Trustee Robert James and his wife, Anne, saw this story as a classic example of how WHOI’s fundamental knowledge and know-how on the ocean makes it ideally poised to respond and provide critical scientific expertise to society in a time of crisis. And they also saw an opportunity to capture this moment in the history of the nation and the Institution.

“WHOI’s good work in response to the oil spill is testimony to the world-class work we do here regularly,” Bob James explained. “This was a unique opportunity for WHOI to showcase itself. The nation needed a deep bench of scientists with relevant experience and the technology to get the job done. Our nation is fortunate that WHOI made these people and tools accessible to study the spill. Our job now is to communicate to the world the depth and breadth of WHOI expertise across all disciplines.”

Thanks to a generous gift from Bob and Anne, WHOI is able to continue its leadership research of the spill and its lingering impact on Gulf ecosystems, as well as document the unique circumstances that enabled the institution to play a valuable role in providing timely, expert, unbiased information and advice to those dealing with the oil spill and to the general public.

Bob and Anne are WHOI leaders who understand how critically important it is that WHOI’s expertise can lead the way in shedding light on the environmental aftermath of this disaster.

A portion of the gift allowed the institution to compile a narrative history of how and why WHOI was uniquely positioned to play such a significant and valuable role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “We wanted to document WHOI’s effectiveness and stature in the ocean science world and its work for the good of the nation,” Bob said. “This study is a window into how WHOI’s work in the Gulf gave scientists actionable data to help the nation through this crisis and to apply to future crises.”

The second portion of their gift was designated to the WHOI Oil Spill Research Fund, which supports ongoing studies aimed at answering questions about the oil plume, its toxicity, the fate of the hydrocarbons and dispersants in Gulf waters, and the long-term impact on ecosystems. This work will span years and has already produced several important new findings.

“Our scientists had the presence of mind to take comprehensive samples and pay out a plan to analyze data for the future good of our planet,” he said. “We will learn things from that collateral data that could help us answer many other scientific questions.”