The history of twentieth-century American physical oceanography concentrates on naval patronage, but its significance for British oceanography is largely unknown. This case study analyzes a varied patronage structure, including naval, industrial, academic, and local and central governmental support, for one site of British physical oceanography, the Liverpool Observatory and Tidal Institute and, in particular, its work on storm surges between 1919 and 1959. Storm surges, caused by wind and changes in barometric pressure, can produce dramatic changes in sea levels. The local shipping industry initially funded the Institute’s research on surge forecasting to improve the accuracy of tidal predictions. After a flood in 1928, however, the focus shifted to flood forecasting. Local government then backed their work, during the Second World War support came from the Royal Navy, and since a flood in 1953, from central government. This case study reveals the range of negotiations carried out between patrons and researchers, and demonstrates how researchers managed competing demands from academic interests and those of industry, the navy, and the government. Studying institutions that did not see a dramatic increase in state patronage during the early Cold War enables us to see the impact of patronage more clearly, highlighting how research interests and methods differed (or not) between institutions with different patronage structures.

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