Finding Aid for the Wheeler J. North Papers 1959-1999

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Caltech Archives
California Institute of Technology
1200 East California Blvd.
Mail Code 015A-74
Pasadena, CA 91125
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Descriptive Summary

Title: Wheeler J. North Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1959-1999
Collection number: 10177MS
Creator: North, Wheeler J. 1922-2002
Extent: 29 linear feet
Repository: California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives
Pasadena, California 91125
Abstract: The papers of Wheeler J. North, Caltech alumnus (BS, biology, 1950; BS, electrical engineering, 1944) and Professor of Environmental Engineering, 1963-1992. The papers include correspondence and memos, data books, proposals and reports, and miscellaneous printed matter and media relating to his career in marine biology and ecology, with emphasis on the kelp beds of California.
Physical location: Archives, California Institute of Technology.
Languages represented in the collection: English


The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

Publication Rights

Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Caltech Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Wheeler J. North Papers, 10177MS, Caltech Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

Wheeler J. North donated his papers to the Caltech Archives in 1998 and 1999.


Wheeler J. North, Caltech alumnus and Professor of Environmental Engineering, 1963-1992, was a marine biologist and ecologist as well as a pioneer in scientific SCUBA diving. He was born in 1922 in San Francisco and spent his childhood in Mexico and La Jolla, California. After attending Caltech as an undergraduate (BS, engineering, 1944), he joined the army for the US occupation of Japan, during which time he became interested in biology. After returning to Caltech for a second degree (BS, biology, 1950), he entered graduate school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he received his PhD in 1953. In the following years he remained at Scripps, beginning a long-term study of giant kelp and becoming an expert SCUBA diver. He became an authority on kelp and the renewal of kelp beds of the California coast, as well as on marine resources and biomass. In 1963 he was appointed professor at Caltech, where he taught marine ecology and continued his kelp studies. Wheeler North died in 2002.

Scope and Content

The North papers are organized in six series: correspondence and memos; grants and proposals, including kelp and biomass projects; data books and research materials; publications and printed matter (including oversize); audio-video material; and biographical material. The video material is notable for including an early example of underwater footage taken by Wheeler North in 1959: Rivers of Sand, which analyzes the formation of the Pacific submarine canyon projecting from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico.
The collection is organized into the following series:
  • Series 1. Correspondence
  • Series 2. Grants and proposals
  • Series 3. Research materials
  • Series 4. Publications
  • Series 5. Audiovisual material
  • Series 6. Biographical material

Related Material

The interview with Wheeler J. North  by Shelley Erwin, Caltech Oral History Project.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


California Institute of Technology
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Marine biology
Marine ecology

Genres and Forms

Motion pictures


Marine biologists

Container List


Series 5. Audiovisual material

Box 1, Folder 1

The Challenging Sea: Kelp 1969

Selected digitized images from this collection.

Physical Description: 16mm film 12-in reel


Documents study of California kelp beds by Wheeler J. North. Covers kelp harvesting by Kelco of San Diego and commercial production of kelp derivatives; decline of kelp beds through predation of sea urchins; mitigation of decline and reforesting of kelp beds. Color film with audio narration and music; 26:02 minutes. TV program by NBC Enterprises, Bill Burrud Production. Physical object is not labelled.
Box 1, Folder 2

Rivers of Sand 1959

Selected digitized images from this collection.

Physical Description: 16mm film 12-in reel


Original underwater footage that records exploration of submarine canyon projecting from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico. Divers discovered flowing sand that suggested how the canyon was formed. Color with audio narration and music; approx. 13 minutes. Filmed when Wheeler North was a student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, San Diego, California. Credit to Scripps.