Bert Bolin — Anthony Hollingsworth — William James Burroughs
The year 2007, which had thus far been so propitious to the international climate change scientific community, thanks to the approval of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC and the auspicious roadmap agreement reached at the UNFCCC’s COP-13 in Bali, among other landmarks, concluded for us all very sadly on 30 December with the death, in Stockholm, of Bert Bolin.
Bert Bolin was born in Sweden on 15 May 1925 and for almost 60 years was a figure in the forefront of global weather and climate research. In the beginning, his interests focused on numerical weather prediction and the use of mathematical models to describe large-scale atmospheric dynamics. In 1947, he was a doctoral student with Carl-Gustaf Rossby’s numerical weather prediction group at Stockholm University. Subsequently, he moved to the USA, to join Jule Charney’s group at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, whose supervisor John von Neumann was in charge of the project to develop an electronic computer.
Bert then returned to Stockholm and participated in setting up the operational numerical forecasting system that delivered the first set of truly functional forecasts ever made on an electronic computer. Through a series of papers published in Tellus, he demonstrated the superior performance of the numerical forecasting methods when compared to the more traditional ones. Bert Bolin used these results and his studies of geostrophic adjustment processes relevant to data assimilation to complete a PhD thesis, which he defended successfully at Stockholm University in 1956. Following Rossby’s death in 1957, Bolin was appointed Director of the International Meteorological Institute in Stockholm and, in 1961, became Professor of Meteorology at Stockholm University.
His post-doctoral research shifted towards biogeochemical cycles and, in particular, to the carbon cycle, since he pioneered studies of carbon modelling to calculate the lifetime of carbon in the atmosphere, a crucial step in understanding how changes in the use of fossil fuels can affect atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations. Together with Erik Eriksson, he developed predictions of the atmospheric carbon dioxide content for the end of the 20th century. Thereafter, the carbon cycle and climate change would remain at the centre of Bert Bolin’s attention for the remainder of his career.
At the same time, he became involved in the international organization of research activities. In particular, in the 1960s, Bert was instrumental in establishing the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP) and organizing the GARP Study Conference held in Skepparholmen (Sweden) in June/July 1967. This was the starting point for this extensive and now almost legendary international research and observation collaborative campaign to better comprehend atmospheric circulation and climate dynamics. Bert served as the inaugural chairman of the WMO-International Council for Science (ICSU) Joint Organizing Committee (JOC) for GARP from 1968 to 1970 and remained a member of the JOC for another six years. In particular, the development of climate models was already seen as a prerequisite for a deeper understanding of climate change. These initiatives contributed to the formation in 1980 of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), under the joint sponsorship of WMO and ICSU.
During the period 1965-1967, Bert Bolin was appointed scientific director of the newly formed European Space Research Organization, the precursor of the European Space Agency (ESA) and contributed to the development of a scientific strategy for the European space programme. Earlier in the 1960s, Bert had taken the initiative to set up a rocket-based research project through the Meteorology Department at Stockholm University, using infrastructure provided by the Swedish Air Force, to study the chemistry and physics of the upper atmosphere. One of Bert’s doctoral students in those years was the 1995 chemistry Nobel Prize recipient Paul Crutzen.
In 1972, Bert Bolin contributed to organizing the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, also known as the Stockholm Conference, which, among other key issues, addressed acidification. The climate change problem was also taken up in the 1970s through Bert Bolin’s efforts, but he became aware that additional evidence would be required to convince decision-makers and society at large, in the sense that the increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide were becoming a potential threat for the future of our environment.
However, during the early 1980s, Bert successfully increased his personal efforts in different international forums to highlight the need to better integrate multidisciplinary research in meeting the climate challenge. The creation of GARP, WCRP and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme were all important steps in this direction, but he became further convinced that, to get the message across, a thorough assessment effort would be required to draw authoritative conclusions on what was known and what yet unknown, and to what degree, in terms of the global climate system.
When WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme set up the IPCC in 1988, Bert Bolin was appointed its first Chairman. He served as such for the IPCC’s first 10 years (1988-1997), as the Panel successfully completed its First Assessment Report in 1990 and its Second Assessment Report in 1995. Even after his retirement, he continued to take an active interest in the IPCC and to contribute actively to its work through the document-reviewing process leading to the Third (2001) and Fourth (2007) Assessment Reports.
Bert drove the IPCC with passion through its formative years and shaped its ethos of commitment to “policy-neutral but policy-relevant” science. It was Bert’s meticulous commitment to keeping the IPCC focused on scientific assessment and avoiding politics that gained the IPCC the almost universal respect for scientific integrity that made its reports so valuable to governments worldwide.
In October 2007, once it was announced that the Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to the IPCC and Albert Gore Jr “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”, Bert was pleased to receive Mr Gore’s call congratulating him whom he considered the initiator of the global efforts that had led to the award.
In mid-December 2007, only a few days before Bert Bolin died, Mr Gore and the present IPCC Chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, delivered lectures to the Swedish parliament. They both stressed that, without Bert Bolin, the IPCC would not have been what it is. Bert Bolin was present on this moving occasion, which underlined even further the enormous international esteem for Bert Bolin and his scientific legacy.
During his lifetime, Bert Bolin was a member of several scientific academies and the recipient of numerous scientific awards and honours, including WMO’s International Meteorological Organization Prize (1981), the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal (1984), the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (1988) and the Fourth Blue Planet Prize of the Asahi Glass Foundation (1995), among many others. Bert Bolin based his entire academic and research career at Stockholm University, where he was Professor of Meteorology from 1961 to 1990, except for visits abroad as a guest scientist. His abilities to lecture, to write and to pursue interdisciplinary science were a model to many of his colleagues and disciples. His loss is deeply felt.
Erland Källén and Henning Rodhe
Tony was born in Dublin on 6 July 1943 and died on 29 July 2007, whilst on holiday in Galway. He was immensely proud of his Irish background. After graduating from University College Cork with a first class honours degree in mathematics, Tony joined the Irish Meteorological Service in 1965 and trained to become a certified meteorologist.
Tony’s first “hands on” job was at Shannon Airport, where he became an aviation and general forecaster. One of his more interesting summer tasks was to prepare regular route forecasts for a US team flying an old Catalina on round-trips from Shannon taking in Keflavik and Narssarssuaq (Greenland). In his “leisure time”, Tony followed a masters course in pure mathematics at the University of Cork.
After a few years in the Meteorological Service, Tony joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study for a doctorate in meteorology and was research assistant to two of the founding fathers of modern numerical weather prediction (NWP), Ed Lorenz and Norman Phillips, who supervised his thesis on “Effects of ocean and solid earth tides on the semi-diurnal lunar air tide”. Tony received his PhD in 1970. He felt that the intellectually robust discussions that he had with “Norm” during his student days prepared him well for committee work in international milieux.
After a spell at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, Tony returned to Europe in 1971. He joined the UK Universities’ Atmospheric Modelling Group at the University of Reading as a research fellow and founder member with Brian Hoskins and Eli Doron.
Tony applied for a post at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in November 1974. He, like me, had heard the talks given by Aksel Wiin-Nielsen and Lennart Bengtsson (subsequently, the first and third Directors of ECMWF) on the preparations being made to establish ECMWF. We both keen to see the day when weather forecasts would cease to be a joke for the public at large and we knew that improved global NWP was the key. The ECMWF plans looked realistic with the added advantage that there was no model or analysis system (data assimilation system).
Tony started work at ECMWF on 1 March 1975 and I joined two months later. The first two years were hectic for both of us. Tony was posted for a few months to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton to work with the GFDL global climate model, which he transferred to ECMWF’s first computer system. He and his small team eventually got it to work on the very slow computer and produced a few global forecasts. This relaxed learning period came to an end in 1976 as the target to develop and implement a full operational forecasting system by mid-1979 became firmly embedded in the Centre’s planning documents.
From 1976 until his retirement in 2003, Tony worked on virtually every aspect of NWP, heading in turn the Physical Aspects Section and the Data and Model Divisions of the Research Department. He was appointed Head of Research in 1991 and Deputy Director in 1995. In addition, Tony made many personal contributions to the science of NWP that led to major improvements to the ECMWF global forecasts. For ECWMF, I believe that the two most important were as follows.
His contribution to the identification of serious systematic model errors as a major component of the total error of the Centre’s first forecasts. This work set the agenda; it provided the tools and even set the style for modelling work for the whole of the 1980s;
His studies of the errors of the observing system and of short-range forecasts. This provided tools, which are in use today, to monitor the performance of the observing system and the basis for the improvement of data analysis and data assimilation, thereby increasing the accuracy of initial conditions.
Tony believed that the job was not complete until the paper was published and he was involved, often with others, in publishing more than 100 reports and papers: many young scientists learnt how to write up their work under Tony’s guidance or example.
Tony stepped down as Head of Research and Deputy Director on his 60th birthday, but real retirement was not what he had in mind. He was keen to run the Europe-wide Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) project, which is concerned with global and regional Earth-system monitoring using satellite and in situ data. Tony stayed on at ECMWF to lead GEMS with vision and dedication.
Tony was an important player also on a wider international stage, fostering extensive collaboration with space agencies worldwide. Also, he worked in support of the World Climate Research Programme, the Global Climate Observing System, the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Meteorological Society (AMS). He was a recipient of the Jule G. Charney Award from the AMS, and a DSc from the University of Cork for his contributions to NWP.
Tony was initially “blind” to the potential of four-dimensional variational data assimilation which is now the cornerstone of modern NWP systems. When it became clear, however, that the variational approach improved the use of satellite data, he became an enthusiastic convert.
Tony and I worked together at ECMWF for almost 30 years and, despite competing for the same post from time to time, we maintained a strong friendship. With many others, we were part of the successful team that revolutionized NWP. We have lost an energetic and hospitable friend and colleague and the wider weather community has lost a great scientist.
Tony is survived by his wife Breda and his children Cormac and Deidre.
Director of ECMWF,
January 1991-June 2004.
William James Burroughs, Bill to family and friends, wrote prolifically and enthusiastically about science, for which he had a lifelong passion. In the commonly used parlance of today, he continued to “make a difference” after formal retirement from the civil service.
Born in Surrey, United Kingdom, on 11 May 1942, where he lived for most of his life, Bill studied at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. His fascination with the weather really began while at Oxford University, as he skated on the River Cherwell during the long, hard winter of 1963. At the time, there was some speculation that the world was experiencing a period of global cooling. His subsequent career began in research at the National Physical Laboratory. Bill attained an MSc then a PhD in Infrared Physics and Atmospheric Physics from London University. From 1971, Bill served his Government in various capacities, as First Secretary (Scientific) in the British Embassy in Washington DC, specializing in energy and environmental issues, as Principal Private Secretary to Tony Benn and then David Howell and, finally, as Head of International Relations for the Department of Health.
An excellent communicator, Bill had, by the end of his career, published 12 books on the subject of weather cycles and the impact of climate change, together with over 200 articles and papers for, amongst others, The Times, The Independent, The Guardian and The New Scientist. In 2005, he received the Michael Hunt Award from the Royal Meteorological Society for excellence in increasing the understanding of meteorology among members of the general public.
In the late 1990s, WMO embarked on a bold undertaking to describe, in one volume, as much as possible about the climate of the 20th century and show its relevance to understanding potential climates of the 21st century. Bill was the writer and editor who pulled it all together. His wide experience with science writing and writing about weather and climate, in particular, enabled the publication (in 2003) of a comprehensive and highly readable book, published jointly by WMO and Cambridge University Press, entitled: Climate: into the 21st century. The New Scientist review of the book said: “There is probably no more complete, single popular volume on where we are with our weather. Edited by Bill Burroughs, a meteorologist noted for his caution about the crasser views of our climatic future, its predictions carry greater weight.” WMO and the task team who oversaw the whole project remain indebted to Bill for his contribution to its success.
William Burroughs, writer and scientist, died on 22 November 2007. He is survived by his wife, his son and his daughter.