Photo of Jacob A.B. Bjerknes

Jacob A.B. Bjerknes

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

By watching and studying maps he discovered the cyclone-making waves of the air and the climate-controlling changes of the sea.

Decades before television, Jacob Bjerknes perfectly captured the plight of the modern day weatherman, often ridiculed for inaccurate forecasts:rnrn“If only the calculations shall agree with the facts, the scientific victory will be won,” he said in 1914. “Meteorology would then have become an exact science.”rnrnBjerknes joined a group of scientists – including his father, a famous Norwegian physicist – in theorizing that weather is concentrated in the narrow spaces between warm and cold masses of air.rnrnThese masses, later named “fronts,” are responsible for the formation, growth and death of extra-tropical cyclones, which prompt events ranging from thunderstorms to nor’easters, he discovered.rnrnThis determination gave meteorologists a better – albeit not always perfect – tool to notify the public of approaching catastrophic inclement weather.rnrnLater in life, Bjerknes turned his attention to atmosphere-ocean interactions, specifically the cause of El Niño.rnrnHis findings often serve as the foundation for climate change research.