Matthew Fontaine Maury
Seafaring, in the 1800’s, was a risky proposition, because
By 1842, he was appointed superintendent of the Depot of Charts & Instruments of the Navy Department in Washington. In this position, he made his greatest contributions to the Navy and the world, by studying navigational and meteorological charts. Maury conducted the first systematic study of the ocean's surface currents and winds. He compiled information on currents and winds from the thousands of logbooks of sailors' observations stored at the U.S. Navy's Depot of Charts & Instruments and published the first charts of the North Atlantic in 1847. He produced the first reliable wind and current charts of the ocean.
He estimated current directions and speeds by analyzing deflections in ships' courses caused by surface ocean currents. Failure to correct a ship's course for current-induced deflections means that the ship's final position at the end of a run differs from its intended destination. Combining thousands of such observations, Maury constructed a map of average surface currents over much of the ocean.
Concerned that Sailors lacked standardized ocean wind and current charts and methods for taking meteorological readings at sea, Maury called an international conference that met in Brussels, Belgium, August 1853. This conference established international cooperation as key to maintaining accurate navigational charts for all mariners. He published “The Physical Geography of the Sea," in 1855, which is credited as one of the first books on oceanography.
Excerpts from the Navy News Stand