Meteorologi på reise: Veivalg og impulser i Arnt Eliassen og Ragnar Fjørtofts forskerkarrierer
Not peer reviewed
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines the scientific careers of the Norwegian meteorologists Arnt Eliassen (1915–2000) and Ragnar Fjørtoft (1913–1998). Through six chapters, different stages in their careers are analyzed, beginning with their time as students during the politically tense 1930s and their scientific upbringing in the wake of the Bergen school of meteorology, and ending in the 1960s, when they were both established in senior positions: Eliassen as a professor at the University of Oslo and Fjørtoft as director of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. During these years, Eliassen and Fjørtoft were constantly on the move, working and conducting research at various institutions in Norway, other Scandinavian countries, and the US, while trying to build careers as scientists.
By focusing on their interactions with researchers in many countries, as well as drawing upon correspondence, publications and other documentation, I explore three themes in particular. First, I investigate Eliassen and Fjørtoft’s scientific travels. How did their respective travels and engangements impact the exchange of ideas, practices and technology between the scientific milieus they visited? More broadly, this scientific migration is related to networks, teamwork and the circulation of knowledge, important topics in the history of science.
Second, through the cases of Eliassen, Fjørtoft and their networks, I illuminate some of the many ways researchers may leave their mark on their scientific disciplines. In addition to producing academic research, scientists must adapt to expectations and their surroundings. I show how Eliassen and Fjørtoft, as well as other scientists, employed a variaty of strategies in order to reach their personal and institutional goals. Sometimes their personal and professional lives conflicted; due to strong ties to Norway, neither Eliassen nor Fjørtoft accepted permanent positions at prestigious American research institutions.
Third, I examine what Eliassen and Fjørtoft are mostly known for, their critical role in the early breakthroughs of numerical weather prediction in the 1940s and 1950s. Although historical accounts of numerical weather prediction note the seminal contributions of Norwegian meteorologists, this is the first detailed analysis of their work.
While Norwegian meteorologists brought their expertise abroad, my dissertation also investigates how the new insights gained abroad were imported back home to Norway, as well as the attempt to introduce new styles of research and actual know-how in the Norwegian context of resources, institutional cultures, and expectations. Eliassen and Fjørtoft realized that the resources and manpower necessary to pursue big science were not present in post-war Norway; hence they mostly focused on non-numerical meteorology, often within the framework of the theoretical Oslo school of hydrodynamics. Also, Fjørtoft invented an ingenious, but impractical, graphical alternative to computer generated forecasts. At the same time they continued to contribute to the development of numerical weather prediction in other countries. I argue that when Eliassen and Fjørtoft had the opportunity, they took part in large, expensive projects and contributed towards the overall goals of the ruling research programs. At other times, when the resources—economical, institutional and personal—were harder to come by, they were happy to work with theoretical research that did not require substantial resources.
In 1961, Ragnar Fjørtoft was responsible for the acquisition of the first electronic computer by the Norwegian meteorological institute. However, although the machine became the core of the research at the institute, this did not lead to an immediate breakthrough of numerical weather prediction in Norway. The real breakthrough occurred later, starting in the 1970s, and was mostly driven by programmers and computer engineers.