AMERICAN METEOROLOGIST AND the first director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), Joseph Smagorinsky developed influential methods for predicting weather and climate conditions and lectured at Princeton for many years. With his decision to move the GFDL to Princeton, Sma-gorinsky made the university a leading center for the study of global warming.
Joseph Smagorinsky was born to Nathan Sma-gorinsky and Dina Azaroff. His parents were from Gomel, Belarus, but fled during the pogroms. Sma-gorinsky's father was the first to immigrate to the United States in 1913, settling in Manhattan's Lower East Side, where he opened a paint store. Three years later, he was joined by his wife and their children. Joseph was born on January 29, 1924, when the family was already living in the United States. Similar to his other three brothers, he worked in his father's paint store. He attended Stuyvesant High School for Math and Science in Manhattan. After high school, he expressed his wish not to stay in the family business and to go to college instead. As his intellectual skills had already become apparent, the whole family decided to support him in his decision. Smagorinsky earned his B.S. (1947), M.S. (1948), and Ph.D. (1953) at New York University. During his sophomore year there, he joined the Air Force and became a member of an elite group of recruits who had been selected for their talents in mathematics and physics. Because of his scientific interests, Smagorinsky was included in the Air Force meteorology program. As a part of the scheme, he was sent to Brown University to specialize in mathematics and physics for six months. Smago-rinsky was then sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to learn dynamical meteorology, under Ed Lorenz, the author of chaos theory. During World War II, Smagorinsky worked as a weather observer for the Air Force. In May 1948, Smagorinsky married Margaret Frances Elizabeth Knoepfel—one of the first female weather statisticians.
After the war, Smagorinsky concluded his studies. Although he had planned a career as a naval architect, the rejection of the Webb Institute led him to choose meteorology as a field. After a question-and-answer session with prominent Princeton meteorologist Jule Charney, Smagorinsky was invited to carry out the research for his doctoral dissertation at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. In 1950, Smagorinsky was part of Charney's team of scientists who successfully solved Charney's equations on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, also known as ENIAC. This was a milestone event in modern meteorology, as it pioneered the use of computers for weather forecasting. At the Institute for Advanced Studies, Smagorinsky and Charney developed the technique of the so-called numerical weather prediction. This technique relied on data collected by weather balloon, which were then elaborated by computers according to the laws of physics. This enabled researchers to forecast the interaction of turbulence, water, heat, and other factors in the production of weather patterns.
After completing his doctorate, in 1953 Smagorin-sky accepted a position at the U.S. Weather Bureau and was among the founders of the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit. Two years later, at the suggestion of eminent meteorologist John von Neumann, the U.S. Weather Bureau created a General Circulation Research Section and appointed Sma-gorinsky to direct it. Smagorinsky conceived his task as the completion of the von Neumann/Charney computer modeling program. He wanted to obtain a three-dimensional, global, primitive-equation gen eral circulation model of the atmosphere. The section was initially located in Suitland, Maryland, but was moved to Washington, D.C., where it was renamed the General Circulation Research Laboratory in 1959. In 1963, it became the GFDL before moving to Princeton University, where it is still located, in 1968. Sma-gorinsky continued to serve as director of the lab until his retirement in January 1983.
Under Smagorinsky's directorship, the GFDL expanded, and Smagorinsky was able to attract respected international scientists such as Syukuro Manabe and Kirk Bryan to work there. The laboratory's work profoundly influenced the practice of numerical weather prediction around the world. Thanks to the GFDL's climate models, scientists have been able to assess more precisely humans' capabilities to affect climate change. In his years at Princeton, Smagorinsky was also appointed as visiting professor in geological and geophysical sciences at the university. As a member of the teaching staff, he helped to develop the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, a doctoral program in the Department of Geosciences that collaborates closely with the GFDL. After his retirement as director of the GFDL in 1983, Smagorinsky became a visiting senior fellow in atmospheric and oceanic sciences at Princeton until 1998.
It is thanks to the connection established by Smago-rinsky between Princeton and the GFDL that the university became a major center for the study of global warming. From the 1970s onward, scientists working under Smagorinsky created the first models illustrating how climate could change in the face of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These models provided the first modern estimates of climate sensitivity and stressed the importance of water vapor feedback and stratospheric cooling. Research at the laboratory also allowed the development of the first models coupling atmosphere-ocean climate for studies of global warming, establishing the important differences between "equilibrium" and "transient" responses to the growing levels of carbon dioxide.
SEE ALSo: Climate Models; History of Meteorology.
BIBLioGRAPHY. S. Manabe, J. Smagorinsky, and R.F. Strickler, "Simulated Climatology of General Circulation With a Hydrologic Cycle," Monthly Weather Review (v.93, December, 1965); J. Smagorinsky, "The Beginnings of Numerical
Weather Prediction and General Circulation Modeling: Early Recollections," Advances in Geophysics (v.25, 1983); J. Smagorinsky, "General Circulation Experiments With the Primitive Equations," Monthly Weather Review (v.91/3, 1963); J. Smagorinsky, "On the Numerical Integration of the Primitive Equations of Motion for Baroclinic Flow in a Closed Region," Monthly Weather Review (v.86/12, 1958); J. Smagorinsky, S. Manabe, and J.L. Holloway, "Numerical Results From a Nine-Level General Circulation Model of the Atmosphere," Monthly Weather Review (v.93, 1965).
Luca Prono University of Nottingham
Was this article helpful?