Jule Gregory Charney

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Jule Gregory Charney
BornJanuary 1, 1917
DiedJune 16, 1981
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Alma materUCLA
Scientific career
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisorJørgen Holmboe[1]
Doctoral students

Jule Gregory Charney (January 1, 1917 – June 16, 1981) was an American meteorologist who played an important role in developing numerical weather prediction and increasing understanding of the general circulation of the atmosphere by devising a series of increasingly sophisticated mathematical models of the atmosphere.

His work was the driving force behind many national and international weather initiatives and programs. Considered the father of modern dynamical meteorology, Charney is credited with having "guided the postwar evolution of modern meteorology more than any other living figure."[4][5]


Charney was born in San Francisco, California, on January 1, 1917, to Russian immigrants Ely Charney and Stella Littman, tailors in the garment industry. Charney spent most of his early life in California.[6]


Charney earned his undergraduate and graduate degress at UCLA, culminating in a Ph.D. in physics in 1946.[7][6]

His Ph.D. dissertation, titled “The Dynamics of Long Waves in a Baroclinic Westerly Current” comprised the entire October 1947 issue of the Journal of Meteorology.[8]The paper was influential because it emphasized the influence of “long waves” in the upper atmosphere on the behavior of the entire atmosphere rather than the more traditional emphasis on the polar front and also provided a way of analyzing perturbations along these waves that was both physically insightful and mathematically rigorous.[9]

Career and research[edit]

Charney began his career at his alma mater, UCLA, as an instructor in physics and meteorology from 1941 to 1946. In 1946 Charney became a research associate at the University of Chicago under Carl-Gustav Rossby, a Swedish-born American meteorologist whose theories of large-scale air movements helped revolutionize meteorology.

From 1947 to 1948 Carney held a National Research Council postgraduate fellowship at the University of Oslo in Norway. During this year he developed a technique known as the “quasi-geostrophic approximation” for calculating the large-scale motions of planetary-scale waves.

Charney’s quasi-geostrophic vorticity equations allowed for concise mathematical description of large-scale atmospheric and oceanic circulations, enabling future numerical weather prediction work.

Numerical weather prediction[edit]

In 1948, Charney joined the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, to explore the feasibility of applying digital computers to weather prediction as head of the Meteorological Research Group. Together with noted mathematician John von Neumann, Charney helped pioneer the use of computers and numerical techniques to improve weather forecasting, and played a leading role in efforts to integrate sea-air exchanges of energy and moisture into the study of climate.[10]

This collective work paved the way for the founding of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. In 1954 Charney helped create the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit, a collaboration between the U.S. Weather Bureau, Air Force, and Navy.

Carney would later served as a member of the Committee on Atmospheric Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences and as chairman of the academy's Committee on International Meteorological Cooperation. In those roles he conceived and helped organize the Global Atmospheric Research Program, the most ambitious international effort in weather research ever undertaken.

Dynamic meteorology and oceanography[edit]

In 1956 Charney left IAS to became a professor of meteorology and director of the Atmospheric and Ocean Dynamics Project at MIT, where for 25 yeas he contributed major contributions in in dynamic meteorology and oceanography research, including large-scale atmospheric turbulence, feedback interactions between the oceans and atmosphere, the persistence of certain abnormal flow patterns in the atmosphere and the relationship of such phenomena to droughts.

Among his many fundamental contributions to the field, Charney identified “baroclinic instability,” the first convincing physical explanation for the development of mid-latitude cyclones. Charney identified the mechanism that explains the size, structure, and growth rate of mid-latitude weather systems, and is a ubiquitous phenomenon in rotating, stratified fluids like our oceans and atmosphere.

From 1974 to 1977, Charney headed the meteorology department at MIT. In addition to his revolutionizing research, Charney is remembered as a charismatic and integritous professor amoung former students from MIT, where he remained until his death in 1981. Students describe falling into “orbit around the Charney sun.” There is a library named in his honor in building that holds the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheres and Planetary Sciences.

Charney Report[edit]

In 1979 Charney chaired an "ad hoc study group on carbon dioxide and climate" for the National Research Council. The resulting 22-page report, "Carbon dioxide and climate: A scientific assessment", is one of the earliest modern scientific assessments about global warming. Its main conclusion can be found on page 2: "We estimate the most probable global warming for a doubling of CO2 to be near 3°C with a probable error of ± 1.5°C." This estimate of climate sensitivity has been essentially unchanged for over three decades, e.g., the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) says that "equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C, with a best estimate value of about 3°C. It is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement with observations is not as good for those values."

Honors and awards[edit]

The American Meteorological Society presents an award named "The Jule G. Charney Award". The Award is granted to individuals "in recognition of highly significant research or development achievement in the atmospheric or hydrologic sciences".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jule Gregory Charney at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ Shepherd, Theodore Gordon (1984). Rossby waves and two-dimensional turbulence in the presence of a large-scale zonal jet (PhD thesis). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. OCLC 12621534.
  3. ^ "TWAS profile" (PDF). The World Academy of Sciences. 2016.
  4. ^ Biography of Jule Charney at American Geophysical Union
  5. ^ National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir of Jule Charney
  6. ^ a b Lauren Hinkel (31 October 2018). "MIT Celebrates the Science of Jule Charney and Ed Lorenz". The Lorenz Center. Cambridge, MA.
  7. ^ "DR. JULE G. CHARNEY IS DEAD AT 64; WORLDWIDE LEADER IN METEOROLOGY". The New York Times. New York City. 18 June 1981. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  8. ^ Charney, J. G. (1 October 1947). "The Dynamics of Long Waves in a Baroclinic Westerly Current". Journal of Meteorology. doi:10.1175/1520-0469%281947%29004%3C0136%3ATDOLWI%3E2.0.CO%3B2.
  9. ^ Fleming, J. (February 2000). "Charney, Jule Gregory (01 January 1917–16 June 1981)". American National Biography. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1302060.
  10. ^ Gilchrist, Bruce (2006). "Remembering Some Early Computers, 1948-1960" (PDF). Columbia University EPIC. pp. 7–9. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 12, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-12. Contains some autobiographical material on Gilchrist's use of the IAS computer beginning in 1952.
  11. ^ a b Schneider, Stephen. Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather. p. 178.
  12. ^ a b c Rittner, Don. A to Z of Scientists in Weather and Climate. p. 38.
  13. ^ "Winners of the IMO Prize". World Meteorological Organization. Archived from the original on 22 November 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.

External links[edit]