Inventing Atmospheric Science:
Gordian Knots and the Quest for Prevision
James R. Fleming
Charles A. Dana Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, Colby College
Atmospheric researchers have long attempted to untie the Gordian Knot of meteorology—that intractable and intertwined tangle of observational imprecision, theoretical uncertainties, and non-linear influences—that, if unraveled, would provide perfect prevision of the weather for ten days, of seasonal conditions for next year, and of climatic conditions for a decade, a century, a millennium, or longer. This presentation, based on Inventing Atmospheric Science (The M.I.T. Press, 2016), examines the work of three interconnected generations of scientists and the influence of three families of transformative technologies in the first six decades of the twentieth century, from the dawn of applied fluid dynamics to the emergence, by 1960, of the interdisciplinary atmospheric sciences.