3.2 The Life and Scientific Times of Bob Bornstein (Invited Presentation)

Monday, 23 January 2017: 4:15 PM
Conference Center: Tahoma 2 (Washington State Convention Center )
Timothy R. Oke, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

This is a personal account of some of Bob Bornstein’s contributions to urban meteorology. He and I entered the field at about the same time, in the mid-1960s. We met at the First AMS Conference on the Urban Environment in Philadelphia in 1972. That was close to the time when the subject began a paradigm shift away from largely descriptive studies to what is now a fully-fledged science. We had both completed observational studies of the boundary layer urban heat island using sensors mounted on helicopters. The results provided valuable field verification of the concept of the urban thermal plume and discovered both the dimensions of the affected air layer and the magnitude of thermal effects.

Initially Bob was a research worker and graduate student associated with Dr. Ben Davidson and the EPA funded New York Urban Air Pollution Dynamics Project, which gathered a massive amount of meteorological and air pollution field data. These were not just observations of urban air temperature but comprehensive wind, humidity and air pollution fields plus synoptic weather maps and much more. Bob used it to write his master’s thesis and publish some very useful papers. His doctoral topic was to construct a 2-D numerical model of the urban boundary layer (URBMET).

On the sudden death of his supervisor Bob was permitted to continue to exploit the New York City (NYC) database, which he did with remarkable tenacity and originality. He used it to unravel many aspects of the mesometeorology of NYC and gradually built a comprehensive picture and understanding of its urban meteorology that is almost without peer. It has figured prominently in studies throughout his scholarly career. The fruits of many large observational studies are often squandered. The pattern is commonly to skim off the relatively obvious findings and then move on to the next project that offers funding and the novelty of a new study location. Instead Bob has consistently worked through the dataset subjecting it to novel and sensitive analyses. They include the temperature structure, heat island and anthropogenic heat emissions; humidity anomalies and their relation to anthropogenic vapour release; wind fields and what they reveal about drag and acceleration due to roughness or thermal breezes, vertical motions and divergence/convergence; the ‘barrier’ effect of the physical mass of buildings; modification of the sea breeze frontal movement and structure; the similar effects on synoptic fronts; the steering of convective storms and their augmentation; the relation of urban effects to the distribution of air pollutants. If a new idea or concept is raised at a meeting Bob returns to the dataset to see if he can demonstrate or refute the hypothesis using the real world results of NYC. In that respect, while Bob is not primarily a field scientist, his approach to urban meteorology epitomizes the theme of this Conference: Observations lead the way. He consistently strives to build a physically plausible and realistic intuitive model of the way urban atmospheres work. To build that model he grounds his ideas in urban observations and uses them to formulate new theory or to test statistical and/or numerical models.

In this way he is able to construct better models and test model predictions with real data. This is a valuable example to younger scientists who can run the risk of plunging too deeply into one or other methodological approach to the exclusion of others.

I think Bob’s greatest contributions to the urban climate community may reside in his commitment to the promotion of discussion and debate. The focus can be one of many topics: numerical modelling, urban effects on precipitation, storm bifurcation, frontal movement, air quality forecasting, etc. He thrives on areas of disagreement or controversy or fuzziness; topics that many skirt around, not with the aim of stirring disagreement but seeking common ground and new ideas. He likes to participate or direct ‘group-thought’ that challenges traditional views to see if they are robust.

This talk will illustrate some of these thoughts and in so doing help to celebrate the remarkable career of Professor Bob Bornstein.

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