A golden anniversary for CGD

Three scientists celebrated at their 50-year mark

August 19, 2013 | Akira Kasahara, Harry van Loon, and Warren Washington came onto the NCAR scene years before the Mesa Lab even existed. On July 24, the three senior scientists—joined by dozens of NESL/CGD colleagues and visitors—were at ML to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their arrival at NCAR.

Akira Kasahara, George Kiladas, Peter Gent
Akira Kasahara joins George Kiladis (NOAA) and Peter Gent (NESL/CGD) at the reception. (©UCAR. Photo by Bob Henson.)

Fellow CGD senior scientist Jerry Meehl timed the event to take advantage of a crop of summer visitors with deep roots in NCAR, such as John Kutzbach (University of Wisconsin–Madison), who first visited NCAR in 1964 as a young graduate student. The gathering included opening remarks from Jerry and CGD director Bill Large, as well as reflections from the guests of honor, followed by an open-mike session.

“This was a unique opportunity for CGD staff and visitors to learn about some early NCAR history, and perhaps appreciate a bit more the contributions of Warren, Akira, and Harry to NCAR and to the science,” says Jerry.

Harry (who fully retired from NCAR a week after the reception), Akira (now a senior research associate), and Warren (chief scientist of the DOE/UCAR Cooperative Agreement in CGD's Climate Change Research Section) all have impressive résumés that reflect many years of service to NCAR, atmospheric research, and the nation. See the sidebar below for details on the intersection of their paths at NCAR in the early 1960s.

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For more photos from the CGD reception, view the slideshow.

Jerry Meehl, Harry van Loon, Akira Kasahara, and Warren Washington
From left:  Jerry Meehl, Harry van Loon, Akira Kasahara, and Warren Washington. (©UCAR. Photo by Bob Henson.)

A global model is born

Akira Kasahara shared memories with Staff News about some of the research that he, Warren Washington, and Harry van Loon were involved with during NCAR’s formative years. The work led to the creation of NCAR’s first general circulation model, the progenitor of today’s Community Earth System Model.

Akira Kasahara in 1970
Akira Kasahara with one of the reel-to-reel tapes used to store data from early computers. (©UCAR)

In the fall of 1961, I was invited by Phil Thompson [founding deputy director of NCAR] to visit Boulder. After meeting with director Walter Orr Roberts, Thompson, and Aksel Wiin-Nielsen, I was very impressed by the future plan of NCAR as described in the famous “Blue Book” [see the related Staff News feature and the Blue Book PDF in OpenSky]. I accepted Phil’s attractive offer that I could work on any topic I wanted. However, one drawback was that there were practically no research facilities, and only a handful of scientists were present in the office located at the old armory building behind Macky Auditorium at the University of Colorado.

During my association with the University of Chicago’s Department of Meteorology, working with George Platzman on hurricane prediction, I had to travel to Washington, D.C., many times for extended periods to run our jobs on electronic computers there (IBM 701, 704, 709). So I didn’t want to move to an organization where no supercomputers were available on site. Since I also had an offer from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University, I mentioned my concern to Phil. He assured me that NCAR would have the best computer on site for NCAR scientists as well as for the atmospheric scientists in the university community and suggested that I take a leave of absence until NCAR installed its own computer. So I accepted Phil’s offer, but joined CIMS in the meantime to work on the occlusion process of frontal cyclones.

Warren Washington with early computers
Warren Washington with tape archives at the NCAR computing center. (©UCAR)

One and a half years later, during the summer of 1963, our family drove to Boulder from New York. When I showed up at NCAR, there were almost one hundred staff members. Our offices were located in Cockerell Hall, a dormitory on the CU campus. The following year the NCAR Computing Facility was created, equipped with the Control Data Corporation's CDC 3600. Soon afterward, I was acquainted with a fresh Ph.D. graduate from Penn State, Warren Washington, who expressed to me his interest in building an atmospheric general circulation model (AGCM). I applauded his foresight and courage and enthusiastically promised my cooperation, as I had been thinking the same.

Harry van Loon
Harry van Loon. (©UCAR)

Of course, Phil Thompson was delighted to hear our plan and gave us his strong endorsement. This is how we began building the first NCAR AGCM with the collaboration of many scientists and programmers. Harry van Loon helped us by providing synoptic and upper-air analyses of the Southern Hemisphere, based on data from IGY [the International Geophysical Year, 1957–58]. This allowed Dave Baumhefner to prepare the first daily global multi-level analyses, which were for 15–19 January 1958. These analyses were used as input data to our AGCM to perform the first global forecast experiments.