James C. McWilliams

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James C. McWilliams
Citizenship American
Nationality American
Fields Oceanic and Atmospheric Modeling
Institutions UCLA

James C. McWilliams is a professor at the UCLA Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

Early life[edit]

McWilliams was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and attended high school in Tulsa. He was primarily drawn to mathematics in his early years, but it was not until college that he began his studies and research in science. McWilliams received a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from Caltech in 1968. In 1969 and 1971, he received a M.S. and Ph.D respectively from Harvard University. He has stated that he enjoyed mathematics because it was fun, but science has real targets. At the time, professors around him were working with a variety of fluid dynamics, so he felt that his calling to science was in the study of oceanic, atmospheric, and astrophysical flows.[1]

McWilliams held a Research Fellowship in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics at Harvard from 1971-1974 and afterwards worked in the Oceanography Section at NCAR where he became a Senior Scientist in 1980. In 1994, while still retaining part-time appointment at NCAR, he began his work at UCLA where he became the Louis B. Slichter Professor of Earth Sciences in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics. In 2002, McWilliams was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Today, he continues his career in academia at UCLA.[2]

Contributions to the field[edit]

James C. McWilliams primarily does research in computational modeling of the Earth's oceans and atmospheres.[3] McWilliams has written numerous papers from 1972 to the present,[4] attempting to construct accurate models to describe the Earth's fluid reservoirs. One of McWilliam's most influential papers was a paper written in 1990 titled "Isopycnal mixing in ocean circulation models", in which together with Peter R. Gent they proposed a subgrid-scale form of mesoscale eddy mixing on isopyncal surfaces for use in non-eddy resolving ocean circulation models.[5]

McWilliams has contributed greatly to the development of accurate models of the Earth's atmosphere and ocean, and his subjects of interest are maintenance of the general circulations; climate dynamics; geostrophically and cyclostrophically balanced (or slow manifold) dynamics in rotating, stratified fluids; vortex dynamics; planetary boundary layers; planetary-scale thermohaline convection; coherent structures of turbulent flows in geophysical and astrophysical regimes; magnetohydrodynamics; numerical methods; and statistical estimation theory.[6]

More recently, he has helped develop a three-dimensional simulation model of the U.S. West Coast that incorporates physical oceanographic, biogeochemical, and sediment transport aspects of the coastal circulation. This model is being used to interpret coastal phenomena, diagnose historical variability in relation to observational data, and assess future possibilities.[7]

He currently teaches graduate student classes including Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Introduction to Ocean Science, and Atmospheric and Oceanic Turbulence.[8] He has authored the textbook Fundamentals of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics [9] for use by students who have an intermediate to advanced knowledge of physics and the Earth's fluid environment.


  1. ^ Email Interview conducted on 1st February 2010
  2. ^ http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/~jcm/bio.htm
  3. ^ http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/~jcm/full_pubs.pdf
  4. ^ http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/~jcm/full_pubs.pdf
  5. ^ http://www.atmos.washington.edu/twiki/pub/Main/OceanModelingReadings/gentmcwilliams.pdf
  6. ^ http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/~jcm/short_vitae.pdf
  7. ^ http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/~jcm/bio.htm
  8. ^ http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/~jcm/JCM/Teaching.html
  9. ^ "Fundamentals of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics". Cambridge. Retrieved 18 April 2014.