Joanne Simpson

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Joanne Simpson
Joanne Simpson.jpg
Simpson bent over reams of images of clouds that she filmed during long flights between islands in the tropical Pacific.
Born Joanne Gerould
(1923-03-23)March 23, 1923
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died March 4, 2010(2010-03-04) (aged 86)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Fields Meteorology
Thesis Certain Features of Undisturbed and Disturbed Weather in the Trade-Wind Region (1949)
Doctoral advisor Herbert Riehl
Known for Tropical meteorology and tropical cyclone research
Notable awards Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal
Spouse Robert Simpson

Joanne Simpson (born Joanne Gerould; March 23, 1923 – March 4, 2010) was the first woman to ever receive a Ph.D. in meteorology.[1][2] Simpson received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago, and did post-doctoral work at Dartmouth College.[3] Simpson was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and taught and researched meteorology at numerous universities as well as the federal government. Simpson contributed to many areas of the atmospheric sciences, particularly in the field of tropical meteorology. She has researched hot towers, hurricanes, the trade winds, air-sea interactions, and helped develop the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).


Her teaching and research career at universities includes time at the University of Chicago, New York University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, UCLA, the Environmental Satellite Services Administration (ESSA),[4] the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the University of Virginia.


In 1958 Malkus collaborated with Herbert Riehl and calculated the average moist static energy and how it varied vertically throughout the atmosphere. They noted that at altitudes up to approximately 750 hPa the moist static energy decreased with height. Above 750 hPa, the moist static energy increased with height which had neither been observed or explained before. Riehl and Malkus realized that this must be due to moist convection that started near the surface that continued rising relatively adiabatically to near 50,000 feet (15,000 m). They called these clouds "undiluted chimneys" but they would later be commonly referred to as hot towers.[5] They estimated that it would take less than 5,000 of these towers daily throughout the tropics to result in the moist static energy profile they observed.

By 1966 she became the director of Project Stormfury while chief of the Experimental Meteorology Branch of the Environment Satellite Services Administration's Institute for Atmospheric Sciences.[6] She eventually became NASA's lead weather researcher and authored or co-authored over 190 articles.



She is quoted as saying winning the Rossby Medal in 1983 made her feel "it isn't really so ridiculous that I did all of this. I'm not really a freak; I am a member of the community."

Yet, poignantly, in an article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, she was quoted as saying "I am not convinced that either the position, rewards or achievements have been worth the cost. My personal and married life and child raising have surely suffered from the professional attainments I have achieved."

Her brother Daniel C. Gerould was the Lucille Lortel Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and Director of Publications of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center. Her husband was hurricane expert Robert Simpson. Simpson died March 4, 2010 in Washington D.C., surrounded by her family.


  1. ^ Tao, W.-K.; Halverson, J.; LeMone, M.; Alder, R.; Garstang, M.; Houze Jr., R.; Pielke Sr., R.; Woodley, W. (2003). "The Research of Dr. Joanne Simpson: Fifty Years Investigating Hurricanes, Tropical Clouds, and Cloud Systems" (PDF). Meteorological Monographs. Cloud Systems, Hurricanes, and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM): A Tribute to Dr. Joanne Simpson. 29 (51): 1–16. Bibcode:2003MetMo..29....1T. doi:10.1175/0065-9401(2003)029<0001:CTRODJ>2.0.CO;2. 
  2. ^ Atlas D and Lemone MA (2011) Joanne Simpson, Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, 15, 368-375.
  3. ^ Gutro, Rob (2005). "Meet Dr. Joanne Simpson: Chief Scientist Emeritus for Meteorology, Earth Sun Exploration Division". Retrieved 19 May 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Herbert Leib (October 1966). "Joanne Simpson" (PDF). ESSA World. Environmental Satellite Services Administration: 7. 
  5. ^ Riehl, H.; Malkus, J.S. (1958). "On the heat balance in the equatorial trough zone". Geophysica. 6: 503–538. 
  6. ^ Herbert Leib (October 1966). "Project Stormfury" (PDF). ESSA World. Environmental Satellite Services Administration: 4. 
  7. ^ Staff (April 1967). "23 Medals Awarded to ESSA Employees". ESSA World. Environmental Satellite Services Administration: 34–35. 
  8. ^ Staff (April 1968). "ESSA Scientists Receive Honors" (PDF). ESSA World. Environmental Satellite Services Administration: 33. 
  9. ^ "Winners of the IMO Prize". World Meteorological Organization. Archived from the original on 22 November 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 

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