A Modern Champion for the Newport Hydrographic Line

Bill Peterson left a remarkable scientific legacy.

By Nancy Steinberg

At the helm of sampling along the Newport Line for more than two decades was its ultimate champion: Bill Peterson. Peterson’s enthusiasm and dedication to the line drove him to work until only a few weeks before his death last summer. Colleagues recall his unbridled fascination with the ocean, his creative, system-level thinking and his dogged determination to take “just one more sample.”

One of the most valuable aspects of the data collected for the past two decades on the Newport Line is that all of the zooplankton samples were examined by the same pair of eyes: Peterson’s. Even once he became ill, “He would meet the boat at the end of every cruise,” Jennifer Fisher marvels. “Even if we came in at 2 am, we’d call him from the jetty, and he’d get out of bed and come meet us every time, because he’d want to look at the samples and stay connected that way.”

Bill Peterson was fondly remembered as a bagpiper as well as a scientist. He is shown here with fellow piper Kym Jacobson. (Photo: Dave Jacobson)

Peterson’s memorial service was held in the fall of 2017 appropriately at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Hundreds of colleagues, lab members and students paid their respects, in addition to friends and family.

“Bill reminded me of my high school track coach, who taught us to ‘run through the tape,’” says OSU oceanographer Ted Strub, one of Peterson’s collaborators. “He meant that you do not run to the finish line. You look way beyond the finish line and run to some point beyond it. You’re still going full bore when you pass the finish line. I watched Bill run through the tape.”

Others noted his playfulness. “He was really just a big kid with a planet to explore and all of us got to come along for the fun,” says OSU oceanographer Jack Barth.

Peterson’s ashes were scattered on his beloved Newport Line, at sentinel station NH-5.


Read “Towing the Line” to learn more about the history of sampling along the Newport Line.

By Nick Houtman

Nick Houtman is director of research communications at OSU and edits Terra, a world of research and creativity at Oregon State University. He has experience in weekly and daily print journalism and university science writing. A native Californian, he lived in Wisconsin and Maine before arriving in Corvallis in 2005.