Scientists of the Decade Participants in International Projects

Unlike many other disciplines, the atmospheric sciences thrive on the international exchange of tens of thousands of observations daily. These observations originate from land stations, drifting buoys, military and merchant ships transiting the oceans, radiosondes, airplane pilots, radar, and satellites. Analyzing all of these observations is a massive undertaking and requires the cooperation of scientists all over the world whether their national governments are allies or not. In the mid-1960s, leading meteorologists from around the world agreed that if they were to advance numerical weather prediction to the point where two-week-long forecasts were accurate enough to be useful to the many consumers of weather information, a multinational undertaking was required.

This decision led to the successful multinational meteorological and oceanographic field experiments of the 1970s that were carried out under GARP. Given that more than 4,000 participants in the First GARP Global Experiment in 1978, and lesser numbers of participants in the smaller field experiments with the alphabet-soup titles of GATE, ALPEX, MONEX, and CEPEX, it is apparent that it would be inappropriate to single out one scientist as having had the greatest influence during this decade. The top atmospheric scientists from 147 nations participated in these data-gathering experiments, which led to revolutionary improvements in the international sharing and use of meteorological data. Participating scientists and their colleagues have produced over 1,000 scholarly papers, and new papers based on these data are still being published today.

In smaller experiments, scientists gathered and analyzed polar observations, conducted experiments in the Sea ofJapan, and studied the Asian monsoon as it related to global atmospheric circulation. Meanwhile, participants from 147 nations were preparing for the main yearlong experiment: the First GARP Global Experiment (FGGE—pronounced "fig-ee"). FGGE, sometimes called the Global Weather Experiment, started in December 1978. The $500 million project involved four polar orbiting and five geosynchronous satellites, over 300 buoys launched between 20°S and 65°S latitude, and over 300 constant level balloons drifting along on air currents some 47,000 feet (14.2 km) above Earth's surface as they measured temperature and upper-level winds. All of the data were sent to "world data centers" in Moscow; Washington, D.C.; and Melbourne, Australia. After additional processing, the data were sent to research laboratories for study.

GARP was a huge success. Not only were the data critical to meteorological research, they were almost immediately used to improve operational forecasting. GARP showed that all nations could work together successfully on a scientific project of mutual interest even during the politically tense years of the cold war. Such a global data collection effort had not been seen since the International Geophysical Year in the late 1950s.

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