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Fw: [rbop] Entangled histories: Climate science and nuclear weapons research

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  • Bob Schwier
    --   Excerpt: Weather forecasting by computer simulation dates to just after World War II, when Princeton University mathematician John von Neumann catalyzed
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 17 8:13 PM
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      Excerpt:

      Weather forecasting by computer simulation dates to just after World War

      II, when Princeton University mathematician John von Neumann catalyzed a

      well-funded effort by military agencies and the Weather Bureau to

      develop computerized forecast models. Von Neumann, who had been deeply

      involved in the Manhattan Project, selected weather forecasting over

      many other possible applications for the earliest electronic digital

      computers because it bore a strong mathematical similarity to nonlinear

      fluid dynamics problems that cropped up in nuclear weapons design. In

      addition, weather forecasting could demonstrate the non-military value

      of digital computers, expanding the base of support for further work

      with the new, still unproved machines (Aspray, 1990; Edwards, 2010).



      By 1955, numerical weather prediction - a combination of data analysis

      and computer simulation - had emerged as a major new technique, spurred

      (and funded) in large part by Navy and Air Force interests (Fleming,

      2010; Harper, 2008). By 1960, laboratories in the United States,

      Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom were trying to extend weather

      forecasting to longer time scales. Their ultimate aim was what von

      Neumann called "the infinite forecast": simulation of the atmosphere's

      global circulation over periods long enough to explore the fundamental

      principles of Earth's climate. The first prototypes of general

      circulation models (global climate models) were built at Princeton in

      the laboratory that von Neumann helped establish (Phillips, 1956). A

      direct descendant of that lab, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics

      Laboratory, remains one of the world's foremost climate research centers

      (Edwards, 2010).



      Five pioneering general circulation models were built between 1955 and

      1965. One of these was created by Cecil Leith, a mathematician who had

      worked on the Manhattan Project. At Oak Ridge and the Lawrence Radiation

      Laboratory (now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), Leith was

      among the first mathematicians to develop numerical methods for solving

      the fluid dynamics equations needed to analyze shock waves produced in

      nuclear explosionsâmethods that are very similar to those required to

      simulate atmospheric motion. Early climate modelers and nuclear weapons

      designers frequently made use of the same textbook, Robert Richtmyer's

      Difference Methods for Initial Value Problems, which stemmed directly

      from Richtmyer's earlier work with von Neumann (Richtmyer, 1957; von

      Neumann and Richtmyer, 1950).

      --- end excerpt ---



      <http://bos.sagepub.com/content/68/4/28.full>



      mark
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