James E. Broda

Dr. James Eugene Broda perfectly fits the criteria for the Edward A. Flinn III Award. He is truly one of those “unsung heroes who provide the ideas, motivation, and labors of love that build and maintain the infrastructure without which our science could not flourish.” For (an incredible) 49 years, Jim has served hundreds of oceanographers, particularly marine geologists and geophysicists, who have relied on his unique blend of knowledge, creativity, careful planning, sharp intellect, and critical thinking to plan and bring to successful fruition both ordinary and extraordinarily outrageous scientific projects. His work over these 5 decades has enabled our science and greatly improved us as scientists.

In his lifetime of achievement, it is not easy to pick out the highlights. Among the “ordinary” accomplishments is his participation in an (incredible) 125 (and counting) oceanographic research cruises, 52 with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) chief scientists, for a total of nearly 10 years at sea! Of course, it is inaccurate to use the term “participation” to describe Jim’s role in these expeditions. He was and is, in most cases, vital to the success of the expeditions, from the earliest stage of planning, through the realization of the cruise, and afterward, through his indispensable role in curating in perpetuity the samples and data.

Many of Jim’s accomplishments have been more “extraordinary” than “ordinary.” One that stands out is his design of the WHOI “long corer,” originally installed on the R/V Knorr in 1997 (now also installed or planned for installation on Korean and German research vessels). That system allowed scientists to retrieve many large-diameter piston cores of 30- to 40-meter length with nearly perfect recovery and quality. It is surely the most innovative and technically advanced sediment corer ever built. In this case, Jim responded to a community need and used his great abilities and perseverance to accomplish something that no one else could have. Many important scientific publications have followed, none of which would have been impossible without Jim’s work.

While these technical endeavors are exemplary, they barely touch on the body of work achieved throughout Jim’s incredible career of accomplishment and self-sacrifice for the entire seagoing oceanographic community (time at sea exacts a cost both physically and emotionally). We are thrilled that this extraordinary man is finally being awarded the great honor that he so richly deserves.

—Paul A. Baker, Duke University, Durham, N.C.; and Lloyd D. Keigwin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mass.


It is indeed an honor to be recognized by this medal from AGU. I humbly express my deepest gratitude to all those who supported my nomination. Thanks also to the innumerable colleagues and shipmates with whom dedication to dreams and love of exploration was shared.

In the spirit of cooperation, part of the creed of this medal, these others should share much of the praise for the contributions accredited to me. They enabled concepts to grow with funding and technical challenges. My career spanned over some of the greatest breakthroughs in ocean engineering, and I was blessed to be surrounded by those engaged in changing the way we look at and understand the ocean.

Over the decades and an excursion of the planet, I sought to evolve safer and more capable seafloor sampling systems. They grew in size and complexity to meet the challenges of the marine geological community. Seismic refraction operations that involved high explosives became a focus, and hundreds of tons of charges were deployed in discreet experiments. As ocean bottom receivers came to pass, so did our completely unique ability to deploy and detonate explosives on the sea floor at full ocean depth.

I was fortunate to have the support and inspiration to apply emerging technologies to solve marine geological equipment development issues. I had the rare opportunity throughout my career to learn by doing and take conceptual CAD drawings onto the shop floor, see them turn into finite objects, then head out to deep water to test and refine the creation.

Finally, sincere thanks to Dr. Paul Baker, Dr. Bill Curry, Dr. Rick Murray, and Dr. Mike Purdy for their generous citation, continued support, and shared adventures over the years. It is very gratifying to have shared so much with so many, from bosuns to postdocs and a visionary or two.

—James E. Broda, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mass.


(2020), James E. Broda receives 2019 Edward A. Flinn III Award, Eos, 101, Published on 25 February 2020.

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