During the first years of its existence, the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM) was called the Fisheries Research Institute (IIP) (see Brief History on the ICM web site). During those years activities related to physical oceanography were carried out to support research in fisheries and, later, in marine biology following the start of hydrographical measurements along the Catalan coast in 1965. From the early 1970s physical and chemical oceanography began to grow in the IIP, strongly linked to innovations in automatic analysis of physical, chemical and biological properties of seawater. This pioneering activity was supported by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO) and resulted in a prize to the team formed by A. Ballester, A. Cruzado, A. Julià, M. Manríquez and J. Salat with the collaboration of M.R. Vitrià.

A study of the coastal upwelling off the NW African coast, carried out through major cruises with objectives in oceanography and fisheries (1971-1975), attracted for the first time several physicists to the kind of research being done  at IIP. Computers for data collection and processing started to be introduced, and significantly, the installation of an IBM 1130 onboard the first Spanish research vessel with oceanic capability, the Cornide de Saavedra (1971) and the CIBERMAR project (A. Ballester, in cooperation with the UAM-IBM research center). The Group of Theoretical and Computing Oceanography (GOTI) was created in 1973. It was formed by young physicists and mathematicians around Antonio Cruzado (J. Salat, J. Font, N. Barberán, M. Wagensberg, J. Cabestany, L. Miralles, F. Xinxó) with the goal of introducing new observational techniques and undertaking the modeling of the ocean. At that time the group started a technical support collaboration with Josep Pascual, a volunteer observer at L'Estartit, that resulted in the collection of a valuable time series of uninterrupted coastal oceanographic data more than forty years long.

In 1979 new CSIC internal regulations resulted in the reorganization of the IIP into four regional centres and the creation of Structural Research Units (UEI). The Oceanography UEI, which paid special attention to chemistry, was established at IIP-Barcelona and chaired by Antoni Ballester.  The first research projects at IIP-Barcelona already fully focused on the study of physical phenomena. These were funded by both the Spanish CAICYT ("TANIT: Oceanographic study of the Catalan Sea", 1977-1980, A.Cruzado and "CARON: Formation and spreading processes of Mediterranean deep water in the Catalan Sea and adjacent regions ", 1981-1983, A. Cruzado / J. Salat) and the US-Spain Joint Committee for Scientific and Technical Research ("Shelf-slope water exchange in ​​the Balearic Sea", 1986-1987, J. Salat / DP Wang). The latter project was known as Flotadors Errants (FE, wandering floats) due to the use of drifting buoys. This period also saw the introduction of the first CTD probe in a CSIC institute (through the CARON project), as well as surface drifters (developed in the FE project) and Lagrangian analysis techniques. The CTD probe became, and continues to be, the basic and standard sampling and measuring tool in all oceanographic projects.

From 1986 the Oceanography group had a leading role in the first Spanish expeditions to Antarctica, promoted by A. Ballester. This led in 1988 to the creation of the first Antarctic base and made possible the first polar research vessel, the BIO Hesperides, after obtaining the Spanish accession to the Antarctic Treaty. Another of A. Ballester's  legacies was the introduction of remote sensing into oceanography, with many airborne campaigns being carried out since the late 1970s and the creation of the working group that became the Spanish Remote Sensing Association in 1988.

In 1987, already as Institute of Marine Sciences and after the retirement of A. Ballester, and the previous departure of A. Cruzado from ICM, the Oceanography UEI was completely restructured with its central focus on physical oceanography (chair J. Font). The FE project resulted in the creation of FEPOG (Wandering Floats Physical Oceanography Group) that was a stable co-operation between ICM and the University of the Balearic Islands (J. Tintoré). This collaboration resulted in the first ICM project within the European MAST program (EUROMODEL), the first CSIC team participating in the Erasmus program (Marine Environmental Modeling, University of Liège), and the first Spanish proposal to use data from the ERS-1 European satellite. The FE drifters project demonstrated the value of designing oceanographic instrumentation in-house.  This strategy was continued by the Oceanography UEI, which took advantage of the technological initiatives that had begun during Ballester’s period at ICM in the field of automatic analysis of oceanographic variables (A. Julià, J. Martínez, J. Comas).

In 1994 the CSIC institutes were organized into departments. The Oceanography UEI became the Physical Oceanography Group (GOF) in the new ICM Department of Marine Geology and Physical Oceanography. The GOF had few permanent members (two scientists J. Font and J. Salat, and four technicians A. Castellón, A. Julià, M. Lloret and M.R.Vitrià ), but nevertheless played an important role in European projects in the Mediterranean region (MATER, Omega, PRIMO). GOF began to increase its research staff during a period of relative prosperity: CSIC permanent posts were created (first E. García, then A. García-Olivares, J.L. Pelegrí, A. Viúdez, A. Turiel), and the number of its postgraduate students, contracted personnel (both researchers and technicians) and foreign visitors increased significantly. A crucial development was the participation in the submission in 1988 of the SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) mission proposal to the European Space Agency, in close co-operation with the Microwave Radiometry Group at the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC). Also noteworthy is the start of operational oceanography activities after the Prestige accident in 2002. In 2005, the GOF was recognized as a Consolidated Research Group by the Catalan government.

This growth and consolidation made possible the transformation of GOF in January 2007 into the Department of Physical Oceanography (DOF), with Emili Garcia (2007), Alvaro Viúdez (2009), Antonio Turiel (2012), Jordi Font (2013) and Josep Lluís Pelegrí (2016) as successive department chairs. In this period we had the sad news of the loss in July 2009 of our colleague Agustí Julià, who at this time was the head of the ICM Oceanographic Instrumentation service. Agustí was a veteran of the group and driver of the first technological developments  and  the deployment and maintaining of the first autonomous instruments to record observational time series (Casablanca platform, Repsol).

In July 2007 we established the SMOS Barcelona Expert Center (SMOS-BEC) by agreement between CSIC and UPC. The SMOS satellite, launched in 2009, allowed for the first time ever the measurement of ocean salinity from space. As a result of our role in SMOS (J. Font Co-Lead Investigator of the mission), DOF obtained much recognition, and in particular the 2011 National Arts Award from the Catalan government in the category of Scientific Thought and Culture. DOF’s role in SMOS  allowed us to obtain substantial funding and international visibility.

From mid-2012 the researchers from the CSIC Marine Technology Unit joined the ICM, with those working in the field of physics and remote sensing (J. Ballabrera, P. Elósegui, J. Piera, M. Portabella) joining the DOF. As a result of this change, in April 2013 the ICM board approved our proposal to change the name of the department to the  Department of Physical Oceanography and Technology (DOFT), which at that time already had over forty members. Shortly before that our two veteran research engineers (M. Emelianov and C. Gabarró) both awarded permanent staff positions.