Presidential Symposium on the History of the Atmospheric Sciences: People, Discoveries, and Technologies


How did Scandinavian Visitors to the U.S. Contribute to NWP Development?

Kristine C. Harper, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

In late 1945, the distinguished mathematician John von Neumann needed a suitably difficult scientific problem amenable to a numerical solution to showcase the capabilities of his proposed computer. Although there were numerous candidates from the physical sciences, von Neumann settled on the weather prediction problem. In their brief accounts of the development of numerical weather prediction, William Aspray's John von Neumann and the Origins of Modern Computing and Frederik Nebeker's Calculating the Weather: Meteorology in the 20th Century give von Neumann primary credit for starting and leading the Meteorology Project at the Institute for Advanced Study. Given considerably less credit are Carl-Gustav Rossby, Jule Charney, and a series of Scandinavian meteorologists who significantly influenced the entire project. Available U.S. meteorologists were more likely to have been mathematicians and physicists trained in meteorology as a result of World War II. They had the technical background to support numerical modeling, but were lacking in a subjective feel for the atmosphere. Those who did have extensive forecasting backgrounds were likely not to have the required theoretical background to meet the needs of the project. The Scandinavians, however, were not only theoretically grounded; they also had a solid feel for the atmosphere. I will argue that the Scandinavian "tag-team," invited by Charney and supported by Rossby, was not only critical to the ultimate success of the Meteorology Project, but that differences in the cultures of meteorology in the United States and Scandinavia made the Scandinavians better suited to accomplish the work which would enable them to answer this question: Is the computer predicted representation of the atmosphere a valid one?

Session 1, History Symposium
Tuesday, 11 February 2003, 1:25 PM-5:00 PM

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