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Jacob Bjerknes

Jacob Bjerknes
Born(1897-11-02)2 November 1897
Stockholm, Sweden
Died7 July 1975(1975-07-07) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, United States
NationalityNorwegian / American
CitizenshipNorwegian / American
Known forENSO
Norwegian cyclone model
Weather forecasting
AwardsNational Medal of Science (1966)
Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal (1960)
International Meteorological Organization Prize (1959)
Guggenheim Fellowship (1957)
William Bowie Medal (1945)
Symons Gold Medal (1940)
Vega Medal (1939)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Jacob Bjerknes with his father Vilhelm Bjerknes, 1897
Jacob and his wife Hedvig Bjerknes, née Borthen, Tivoli, Denmark, 1929

Jacob Aall Bonnevie Bjerknes (/ˈjɑːkəb ˈbjɜːrknɪs/ YAH-kəb BYURK-niss, Norwegian: [ˈjɑ̀ːkɔb ˈbjæ̂rkneːs]; 2 November 1897 – 7 July 1975) was a meteorologist.[1][2] He is known for his key paper in which he pointed the dynamics of the polar front, mechanism for north-south heat transport and for which he was also awarded a doctorate from the University of Oslo.[3]

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, he was the son of the Norwegian meteorologist Vilhelm Bjerknes, one of the pioneers of modern weather forecasting.[4] He helped develop the Norwegian cyclone model. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Oslo in 1924. Bjerknes was part of the team that made the first crossing of the Arctic in the airship Norge. During WWII, he helped the US with the planning of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. He also helped gain an understanding of the weather phenomenon El Niño.


Jacob Aall Bonnevie Bjerknes was born in Stockholm, Sweden. His father was the Norwegian meteorologist Vilhelm Bjerknes, one of the pioneers of modern weather forecasting.[4] His paternal grandfather was Norwegian mathematician and physicist Carl Anton Bjerknes. His maternal grandfather was Norwegian politician Jacob Aall Bonnevie, after whom he was named.[5][6]

Professional career

Bjerknes was part of a group of meteorologists led by his father, Vilhelm Bjerknes, at the University of Leipzig. Together they developed the model that explains the generation, intensification and ultimate decay (the life cycle) of mid-latitude cyclones, introducing the idea of fronts, that is, sharply defined boundaries between air masses. This concept is known as the Norwegian cyclone model.[7]

Bjerknes returned to Norway in 1917, where his father founded the Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen in Bergen. They organized an analysis and forecasting branch which would evolve into a weather bureau by 1919. The scientific team at Bergen also included the Swedish meteorologists Carl-Gustaf Rossby and Tor Bergeron. As pointed out in a key paper by Jacob Bjerknes and Halvor Solberg (1895-1974) in 1922, the dynamics of the polar front, integrated with the cyclone model, provided the major mechanism for north-south heat transport in the atmosphere. For this and other research, Jacob Bjerknes was awarded the Ph.D. from the University of Oslo in 1924.[3]

In 1926, Jacob Bjerknes was a support meteorologist when Roald Amundsen made the first crossing of the Arctic in the airship Norge. In 1931, he left his position as head of the National weather service at Bergen to become professor of meteorology at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen. Jacob Bjerknes lectured at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the 1933-1934 school year.

In 1940, he emigrated to the United States , where he headed a government-sponsored meteorology annex for weather forecasting, at the department of physics of the University of California, Los Angeles. During the Second World War Bjerknes was in the US armed forces, and serving as a colonel in the US Air Force he helped determine the best dates for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[8]

Bjerknes founded the UCLA Department of Meteorology (now the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences). As a professor at the University of California, he was the first to see a connection between unusually warm sea-surface temperatures and the weak easterlies and heavy rainfall that accompany low-index conditions[clarification needed]. At UCLA, Bjerknes and fellow Norwegian-American meteorologist, Jorgen Holmboe, further developed the pressure tendency and the extratropical cyclone theories.

In 1969, Jacob Bjerknes helped toward an understanding of El Niño Southern Oscillation, by suggesting that an anomalously warm spot in the eastern Pacific can weaken the east-west temperature difference, disrupting trade winds, which push warm water to the west. The result is increasingly warm water toward the east.[9]

Personal life

In 1928, he married Hedvig Borthen (1904–1998). They were the parents of two children. He died on 7 July 1975 in Los Angeles, California.[4]

Honors and awards

He was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1932 and a member of both the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Royal Swedish Academy of Science in 1933.


  1. ^ Jacob Bjerknes - the Synthesizer Archived 15 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine (University of Washington)
  2. ^ Jacob Bjerknes (Norsk biografisk leksikon)
  3. ^ a b Halvor Solberg (Store norske leksikon)
  4. ^ a b c "Weather Forecast Pioneer Dies". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Santa Cruz, CA. 8 July 1975. p. 24. Retrieved 31 January 2022 – via Open access icon
  5. ^ The Life and Science of Jacob Bjerknes (Creighton University Department of Atmospheric Sciences)
  6. ^ Carl Anton Bjerknes (Norsk biografisk leksikon)
  7. ^ Jacob Aall Bonnevie Bjerknes (1897–1975) Archived 19 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine (American Geophysical Union)
  8. ^ Magasinet, supplement to Dagbladet, 11 February 2014. pp. 14–24.
  9. ^ Nova (1998). "1969". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 24 July 2009.
  10. ^ "Winners of the IMO Prize". World Meteorological Organization. Archived from the original on 22 November 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  11. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
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Jacob Bjerknes
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