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Blog Home » Remembering Art Pederson

Remembering Art Pederson

Art Pedersen, founder of Sea-Bird Electronics, passed away on October 8th, 2021. His designs are firmly cemented into Sea-Bird’s CTDs, and he leaves behind profound impacts on how scientists make measurements in the ocean. Dr. Norge Larson, former president of Sea-Bird Scientific (2004-2013) and long-time colleague of Art, spoke about the early days and Art’s legacy as an engineer and president. “He was sort of an everyman and a jack of all trades. He had an electronics degree, an MBA, and a lot of mechanical engineering experience.” Norge recalls. “And he ran the company with his even temper and his straight forward ‘North Dakota’ philosophy. He approached things in a plain and simple way. You didn’t make them complicated. One of Art’s mantras was ‘we do what we know how to do, and we don’t do what we don’t know how to do’. It kept us incremental, and from overreaching – real North Dakota.”

Art Pederson with an early CTD model

Art deploying an early CTD model.

Prior to founding Sea-Bird Electronics, Art worked for the Applied Physics Lab (APL) at University of Washington. At APL, in the mid 1960’s Art applied Wien bridge circuitry methods to temperature measurements in the ocean. Norge explains that APL created some of the first oceangoing AUVs by replacing the warheads on torpedoes with scientific sensors. “Torpedo engines are meant to get somewhere fast, and they were exceptionally electrically noisy. So, you had to have circuitry that could make precise measurements without influence from all this electrical noise. The Wien Bridges and FM counting methods can do that elegantly”. This innovation helped refine the “T” in “CTD”, and Art later applied the Wien bridges to conductivity sensors, developing Sea-Bird’s first internal field C sensors.

APL Engineers and SPURV, the Navy's first autonomous vehicle

Art (second from the left) and fellow APL Engineers with SPURV, the “Self-Propelled Underwater Research Vehicle” in the late 1960s. SPURV was the Navy’s first AUV.

Art took an incentive to retire early from University of Washington along with an exclusive manufacturing license for the Wein bridge T&C sensor from APL and founded Sea-Bird Electronics in 1979.  Art also invented hybrid period counting before it was introduced by Hewlett Packard. These innovations formed the basis of the first Seabird CTDs and continue to make our CTDs the best in the world.  Joined by Ken Lawson, the two began by working out of a bedroom in Art’s house. The first CTDs from Sea-Bird Electronics came out in 1982. Over the years, Art and Ken developed exceptionally stable Wein bridge circuitry underpinning the high-accuracy that is a Sea-Bird hallmark. As the company grew and established trust with the scientific community, Norge credits Art’s leadership with getting Sea-Bird Electronics off the ground. “He just treated things in a simple way, and he could be brutally honest. You really liked talking to Art, but sometimes it could get uncomfortably real.  He would say ‘Norge you’re not doing your job, this is what it needs to be’. It was simple. And it was always delivered in a non-judgemental way. I really appreciated Art”

Art’s designs form the bedrock of our CTDs to this day. Through these designs and his “North Dakota” leadership, he established Sea-Bird Electronics as a successful facilitator and co-practitioner of oceanography, and a company that continues to make important contributions to the scientific community. As 2021 comes to a close, Art’s company has developed and provided over 70 different instruments to that ocean community.

December 10, 2021

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