LEWIS FRY RICHARDSON was an innovative Britsh mathematician, physicist, and psychologist who first tried to apply mathematical concepts to weather forecast. Although his method for weather forecasting was not entirely successful during his lifetime, it was rediscovered with the advent of computers and formed the basis for computer-based weather forecast. The recorded change over a given distance of temperature and wind (gradient) is named the Richardson number after him.
Lewis Fry Richardson was born into a wealthy Quaker family in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on October 11, 1881. His mother, Catherine Fry, was the daughter of corn merchants, and his father, David Richardson, came from a family of tanners, a profession that he took up himself. Lewis was the youngest of a large family of seven children. He attended Newcastle Preparatory School where he already showed his predilection for math, particularly the study of Euclid. Then in 1894 he went to Bootham School in
York, an elite Quaker institution established in 1823. It was here that Richardson first combined his interest for math with science and meteorology in particular. One of his teachers, Edmund Clark, was in fact an expert in meteorology and greatly influenced Richardson. The institution also reinforced Lewis's pacifism, a value that had been taught to him by his parents and a fundamental tenet of Quakerism which led him to difficult career choices in his maturity. After leaving Bootham in 1898, Richardson spent two years in Newcastle at the Durham College of Science where he studied mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany, and zoology. Richardson completed his education at King's College, Cambridge, from which he graduated with a First Class degree in the Natural Science Tripos in 1903.
After graduation, Richardson was employed at many different posts. He worked in the National Physical Laboratory (1903-04, 1907-09) and the Meteorological Office (1913-16), and he was hired as a university lecturer at University College Aberystwyth (1905-06) and Manchester College of Technology (1912-13). In addition he was a chemist with National Peat Industries (1906-07) and directed the physical and chemical laboratory of the Sunbeam Lamp Company (1909-12). He married Dorothy Garnett in 1909 and although they had no children of their own, they adopted two sons and a daughter.
Richardson was working for the Meteorological Office as superintendent of the Eskdalemuir Observatory at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Because of his Quaker beliefs, he declared himself a conscientious objector and could not, therefore, be drafted into the military. This choice implied that he would never be able to qualify for university posts. While Richardson was not involved in military operations, from 1916 to 1919 he served in the Friends Ambulance Unit, attached to the 16th French Infantry Division, where his work earned him praise. After the war, Richardson returned to his position in the Meteorological Office, but had to resign from it in 1920 when the Meteorological Office became part of the Air Ministry. His pacifist beliefs could not allow him to continue to work for an institution which was part of the military. Richardson then went back to teaching. From 1920 to 1929 he headed the Physics Department at Westminster Training College, and from 1929 to 1940, he was principal of Paisley College of Technol ogy and School of Art in Scotland. He retired in 1940 at the age of 59 to concentrate on research.
Richardson had a lifelong interest in the application of mathematics to meteorology. He was the first to apply the mathematical method of finite differences to the prediction of the weather in his study Weather Prediction by Numerical Process (1922). His method of finite differences was designed to solve differential equations, arising in his work on the flow of water in peat for the National Peat Industries. As these methods allowed him to obtain highly accurate solutions, he decided to apply them to solve the problems of the dynamics of the atmosphere encountered while working for the Meteorological Office. The initial conditions were defined through observations from weather stations, and would then be used to solve the equations. Finally, a prediction of the weather could be made. Richardson's remarkable insight was ahead of its time since the time taken for the necessary hand calculations in a pre-computer age took too long. Even with a large group of people working to solve the equations, the solution could not be found in time to be useful to predict the weather. Richardson himself admitted that it would take 60,000 people to have the prediction of tomorrow's weather before the weather actually arrived. In spite of this flaw, Richardson's work pioneered present day weather forecasting.
Throughout his life, Richardson published extensively on the application of mathematics to the weather and contributed to the theory of diffusion, specifically regarding eddy-diffusion in the atmosphere. For his scientific achievements, he was elected to the Royal Society in 1926. His deeply-rooted interest in pacifism led him to apply mathematics to the study of wars and military conflicts. His results were published in three major books: Generalized Foreign Politics (1939), Arms and Insecurity (1949), and Statistics of Deadly Quarrels (1950). Richardson used mathematics to challenge the assumption that war was a rational national policy in the interests of a nation. He gave systems of differential equations governing the interactions between countries. Starting with the armament of two nations, Richardson constructed an idealized system of equations calculating the rate of a nation's military buildup as directly proportional to the amount of arms its rival has and also to the disputes toward the enemy. This rate is, instead, nega tively proportional to the amount of arms it already has itself. Richardson died on September 30, 1953, in Kilmun, Argyll, Scotland.
SEE ALSO: Climate Models; Weather.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. O.M. Ashford, Prophet—or Professor? The Life and Work of Lewis Fry Richardson (Adam Hilger, 1985); T.W. Korner, The Pleasures of Counting (Cambridge University Press, 1996); P. Lynch, The Emergence of Numerical Weather Prediction (Cambridge University Press, 2006); Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (Harvard University Press, 2004).
Luca Prono University of Nottingham
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