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Federation and MeteorologyBureau of Meteorology
Table of Contents

History of Research in the Bureau of Meteorology




Chapter 1: Germination and Growth

Chapter 2: Struggle, Competition and Emergence

Appendix 1: Meteorology Act 1906

Appendix 2: Meteorology Act 1955

Appendix 3: Simpson Report
Notes on Research and Training in the Meteorological Bureau and University in Response to the Letter from the Minister for the Interior Dated 18 January, 1939
Special Investigations
Pure Research
Research in a Meteorological Bureau
Meteorological Research at the Universities

Appendix 4: Survey Questionnaire

Appendix 5: Bibliography



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Appendix 3: Simpson Report

Notes on Research and Training in the Meteorological Bureau and University in Response to the Letter from the Minister for the Interior Dated 18 January, 1939

  1. These notes are written on the assumption that there is in Australia a Meteorological Service which collects weather data from a network of Stations and coordinates them for the use of the public. It computes average values of temperature, rainfall and the other meteorological elements and publishes them in Monthly and Annual Reports. It also collects information by telegraph and draws synoptic charts for the preparation of the forecasts required by aviation, shipping, agriculture, and the general public.
  2. Such a Service could be run with a staff having a minimum of scientific knowledge and training if it were content to employ discoveries and methods originating in other countries; but it could not meet modern demands for meteorological information without undertaking research to adapt meteorological principles to local conditions and to improve the technique of local weather forecasting.
  3. The term "research" is generally used to cover two quite different things which I will specify as "special investigation" and "pure research".

Special Investigations

  1. A Meteorological Service constantly receives enquiries from the general public for specialised information bearing on problems of considerable economic importance. The following examples may be given:
    1. A certain crop can only be grown when the temperature, rainfall and wind are within specified limits during the various seasons, and it is required to know where such a crop could be grown in Australia.

    2. An electric power line has to be taken from one place to another; information is required as to the force of the wind in certain exposed positions so that the strength of the pylons and cables can be calculated.
    3. A report is required on the meteorological conditions at a certain site where it is proposed to locate an aerodrome.

    4. To what height must the chimney of a proposed factory be carried to prevent the fumes emitted from becoming a nuisance to surrounding property?

    5. Many problems of aerial defence, which cannot be specified here, depend largely on weather factors, and information on these problems is urgently required by the Air Force.
  2. Questions such as these cannot be answered off-hand. They require the gathering together of all the existing data bearing on the problem, the preparation of charts and the scientific discussion of the information thus assembled. In other words "a special investigation" has to be undertaken involving in some cases considerable scientific knowledge and skill. Although such special investigations partake of the nature of research, the fact that each investigation has a specified purpose and definite end differentiates them from the problems of pure research.

Pure Research

  1. The object of pure research is to discover fundamental principles which may or may not be of direct practical value. The main difference between a special investigation and a piece of original research is that with the former the end is in view the whole time while with the latter there is no end. Some of the most valuable pieces of pure research have been the results of observations started for one purpose which have led in an entirely different direction. A worker in pure research will generally have a definite object in view, but his line of approach may not be clear to him at first. He must make experiments, observations and calculations and on the results of these he progresses towards his objective. He often finds himself, however, going along paths which do not lead to his objective but which, nevertheless, give him new knowledge of the utmost value to other aspects of meteorological science.
  2. Thus, while a worker who is engaged on a special investigation traverses a path clearly marked from the first and from which he must not depart, the researcher must have freedom to follow where his results lead him and his work must not be considered a failure because he has not solved the problem he set out to solve.
  3. As the methods and ends of special investigations and pure research are so different, different types of minds are required to prosecute them. They both require minds with resource; for in both cases the material one has to work with is seldom entirely suitable for the purpose in view and has to be modified and adapted before useful results can be obtained. The type of mind capable of successfully carrying out a special investigation is much more common than that capable of undertaking pure research. The former only requires a good knowledge of the materials and methods available with sufficient resource to adapt them to the clearly defined investigation; while the latter requires this and in addition the intuition—which may approach genius—to coordinate apparently independent phenomena and deduce from them underlying relationships which are not otherwise apparent. The type of mind capable of undertaking original research is very rare, probably less than ten per cent of first class honours students possess it.

Research in a Meteorological Bureau

  1. In the Meteorological Office, London, and I believe that the same applies in other Meteorological Services, the number of staff in each grade is fixed by the Government. The cadre is fixed according to the amount of normal work: so many for dealing with the monthly "returns", so many to deal with the "daily weather" work, and so many at each out-station. To each member of the staff certain duties are assigned and, as the work is of a recurring nature, it must always be kept up-to-date; the monthly returns must be dealt with as they are received, otherwise the Monthly Reports would not be ready for publication on the fixed dates; the daily weather work must be dealt with day by day and the observations must be made at the out-stations without break. This causes a rigidity of duties which hardly exists in other Government Departments. It is seldom possible to take staff off their day to day duties to be employed on special investigation, still less to undertake pure research which has no direct bearing on the current work of the Service.
  2. When I became Director of the London Meteorological Office, I found that every man had definite routine duties and it was with the greatest difficulty that special investigations could be carried out. I suggested to the Government that I must have a number of posts for training, special investigations and research without routine duties. My request was granted and the number of sanctioned posts in each grade below Assistant Director was increased by approximately ten per cent to form a Pool. It was my intention to fill up the Pool posts and then to exchange men between the Pool posts and the ordinary posts, so that suitable men would be available for special work as required. In normal conditions this might have been the solution of the problem, but in the abnormal condition of rapid expansion in the London Meteorological Office since the War the Pool did not act as planned. It would serve no useful purpose for me to state in detail how the Pool failed, because the period of rapid expansion was quite abnormal, so I will confine my remarks to the general principles which our experience of the Pool revealed as they are pertinent to this discussion.
  3. The work of special investigation and research require specially intelligent men who should be relieved of all routine work and should remain on the special work for a number of years. In practice, especially during a period of expansion, the men do not remain long in the Pool. Whenever a new post is created it is usual to look around for the best man to fill it and he is often to be found in the Pool. The routine work grows faster than trained staff can be provided, for Governments will seldom sanction additional staff until new work has eventuated and then the additional staff has to be trained. In this interval the new work has to be done and the only way to do it is to take trained men from the Pool.
  4. Naturally the majority of vacancies, leading to promotion, occur outside the Pool, especially in the higher posts. The promotion may go to a man in the Pool and he has then to leave his special work in the Pool to take up his new post.
  5. If a man with special aptitude for scientific work is assigned early in his career to the Pool, he does not get experience with the other branches of the work. Thus, when a vacancy occurs in a higher grade, involving transfer to new work, the man who has served most of his time in the Pool is not able to be promoted because he has had no experience of the new work. The only way to get over this difficulty is not to keep any one man for a long time in the Pool.
  6. For the above reasons, amongst others, the Pool is always being robbed of its best men and the work for which the Pool was established does not get done.
  7. Pure research suffers even more than special investigation from the competition of the utilitarian work of the Service. A special investigation is usually undertaken in response to a definite request from outside the Service. Research, on the other hand, is undertaken to meet a less tangible need and can always been postponed when there is an extra demand for staff. It must not be forgotten that a Meteorological Bureau is a Public Service Department of Government, like the Post Office, or Health Services, and is not a Research Department like the Radio Research Department of the C.S.I.R.. Work to meet a definite public need must, therefore, take precedence over pure research. For nearly three years in London I tried to set free my best research worker to follow pure research; but his services were constantly required for difficult special investigations asked for by the Royal Air Force and he could never be employed on research work.
  8. It will be clear from what has been said that there are great difficulties in getting research work successfully carried out in an official Meteorological Service, even when staff is provided for the purpose. The public services of the Department take first place and have a prior call on the best man, the research work is, therefore, constantly handicapped and tends to be smothered by the routine work.

Meteorological Research at the Universities

  1. The British Empire, even in England, is far behind other countries in the teaching of meteorology in the Universities. Before the War no English University taught meteorology, but in 1920 the Imperial College of Science (London University) appointed Sir Napier Shaw to be a half-time Professor of Meteorology, and in about 1932 the professorship was made whole-time and Mr. D. Brunt was appointed the first whole-time Professor of Meteorology, in the British Empire. A few lectures on meteorology are given at some other English Universities, mainly as parts of courses in physics or geography. In other countries the position is entirely different. At practically every University on the Continent meteorology is taught and in most there is a Professor of Meteorology. In France, Germany, Norway, and the U.S.A. there are important Geophysical Institutes attached to Universities and entirely independent of the State Meteorological Services. These institutions are devoted entirely to the problems of the physics of the earth—meteorology, seismology, terrestrial magnetism, etc.—of which meteorology is by far the most important. The Geophysical Institutions at Frankfurt and Leipzig in Germany, and at Bergen in Norway, are outstanding examples, each employing a large staff of workers under a University Professor. It is from the Universities, and especially from the Geophysical Institutions that the chief advances in scientific meteorology have come; in comparison the scientific work done by official Meteorological Services in all parts of the world is insignificant.
  2. In my opinion it will always be to the Universities that we must turn for the scientific development of meteorology. The State Meteorological Services are far too trammelled by the routine duties they have to perform for the public to find staff with the leisure and freedom from control which scientific research demands. At the most the State Meteorological Services can only be expected to work on the problems directly concerning the services to the public for which they have been established. On the other hand Universities are, or should be, the homes of research in all scientific subjects.


  1. No man can successfully perform the duties of the higher posts in a Meteorological Service, for example those of the forecaster and the heads of sections, who has not had a sound training in the science of meteorology. In the past these posts have often been filled by men who have had little or no scientific training, but who have learnt their work within the Meteorological Service by experience and rule of thumb. Meteorology has, however, developed so rapidly in recent years that this method cannot be continued. To make a successful forecast one must have a thorough grasp of the principles underlying the stability and instability of the atmosphere and must be able to deduce from a synoptic chart what is really taking place in the atmosphere. Modern climatology does not consist only in calculating averages, but the physical relationship between the different climatological factors and the reasons for the variation of climate from one place to another must be understood. Unless one has a complete knowledge of the physics and thermodynamics of the atmosphere one is working in the dark and mistakes are made which would not occur if one had the insight which scientific knowledge alone can give.
  2. This scientific knowledge can best be obtained at the University when a man is young. In the absence of special courses in meteorology at the Universities it has been usual in England to recruit the "officer class" for the Meteorological Service from men with honours degrees in physics or mathematics. Meteorology is really a specialised branch of physics and applied mathematics and men with a sound training in either of these subjects can generally apply their knowledge to the problems of meteorology. It has, however, been found desirable during recent years to give recruits from the Universities six months of intense training in meteorology in the office before setting them to work.
  3. In my opinion it is not desirable that the Universities should introduce degrees in meteorology. If a student devotes the three or four years which he spends at the University in taking a degree in meteorology he will claim a right to a post in the Meteorological Service. This would not be fair to the Service. A man might take a good degree at a University but be entirely unsuitable for a post in a Government Service which may involve his taking charge of a Meteorological Station on an aerodrome where he would not only have great responsibilities of a technical nature, but would be brought into close association with pilots, civil and military, who are essentially practical men of the world. For work of this kind personality and temperament are as important as scientific knowledge. It would also not be good for the man himself, for, if he failed to obtain a post in the Meteorological Service, his degree would be of little use to him as there are no careers outside the Meteorological Service for which a degree in meteorology would be a qualification.
  4. A solution would be to include meteorology in the subjects for the degree in physics in the same way as spectroscopy, radioactivity, molecular physics, etc., are included. If the teaching of meteorology were under a separate lecturer with time to conduct advanced classes in meteorology, a student, after taking his degree in physics might remain at the University for a year's post-graduate work in meteorology to qualify him for a post in the Meteorological Service; If he does not obtain one he has his degree in physics to fall back upon and he will be in a position to obtain a post for which a degree in physics is a qualification.
  5. If the lecturer in meteorology at the University were in close cooperation with the Director of the Meteorological Service, he would soon know the type of man required in the Service and what vacancies are likely to occur, and so be able to advise students as to the wisdom or otherwise of specialising in meteorology. In fact, undertakings might be given in many cases to suitable men that if they satisfactorily concluded a course of post-graduate work in meteorology they would be taken on to the staff of the Service.
  6. The employment of University trained men in all the forecasting and higher posts of the Meteorological Service leads to difficulty with the "assistants". Assistants usually enter the Service at the age of 17 or 18 with good educational qualifications and are employed on computing, the preparation of synoptic charts and ordinary clerical work. If they are not allowed to make forecasts or to undertake any of the higher work for which scientific qualifications are required, it is difficult to find sufficient higher posts to provide them with adequate careers. A few years ago we found ourselves in the following unsatisfactory position in the London Meteorological Office. The development of the Service had been mainly to meet the needs of aviation involving a large increase in the number of forecasters both at Headquarters and out-stations. These new posts were all being filled by University graduates. The number of higher posts was little affected by this expansion with the consequence that the chance of a new entrant reaching a high post became very small. At the same time there were a large number of assistants in the Office who had reached the top of the Assistant grades which carried a salary less than that of a forecaster. Thus we had too many posts at the bottom of the "officer" grades and not sufficient posts at the top of the "assistant" grades.
  7. To meet this difficulty it was decided to throw the forecasting posts open to Assistants as well as to young University graduates. An Assistant who has been in the Office ten or fifteen years, engaged most of the time in preparing synoptic charts for the use of the forecaster, has gained by experience the facility for reading and interpreting the charts little inferior to that of a forecaster with a scientific training. It is, therefore, only necessary to give such experienced Assistants a short course in the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere to qualify them for forecasting posts. This policy was adopted and all the Assistants with sufficient experience were given a course of meteorological science and those who showed the necessary aptitude were appointed to the new forecasting posts. In this way a large number of higher posts were made available to Assistants, so improving the prospects of that class as a whole and at the same time reducing the number of men in the bottom grade of the officer class thus improving the prospects of new entrants into that class also.
  8. The scientific training of the Assistants has in the present emergency been carried out within the Meteorological Office; but it is the intention, when normal conditions are established, that the training should be undertaken by the London University. Each Assistant who has served satisfactorily for a specified period and shown his aptitude for forecasting work will be sent to the University at Government expense for a session (occupying about eight months) to take a special course under the Professor of Meteorology.


  1. I am now in a position to sum up what has been written above by giving concrete answers to the questions contained in the letter dated 18 January, 1939.
    1. The fields of research and training which could most appropriately be covered by the University and the Bureau, respectively.

    The letter states that it has been decided to provide a "Research and training section" in the Weather Bureau and to establish a "Reader in Meteorology" in an Australian University, which, I understand, will most probably be the University of Melbourne.
  2. Experience has shown that it is extremely difficult to undertake pure research in a Weather Bureau owing to the demands which the ordinary work of the Bureau makes for the best men available on the permanent staff. Also there must be frequent exchange between the personnel in the Research Section and the personnel in the routine branches of the Service, otherwise a man will not obtain a balanced knowledge of the different sides of the work of the Bureau and his career in the Bureau might be prejudiced.
  3. A certain amount of training within the Bureau is a necessity, especially training in the practical work of the Bureau, e.g. the preparation of synoptic charts from the coded weather telegrams, the making of practical forecasts, the handling of monthly returns and the treatment of instruments. This training should be kept as small as possible, the training in the science of meteorology being carried out as far as possible in the University. It is obviously inefficient to employ trained meteorologists as teachers—teaching is a profession in itself.
  4. The Research Section in the Bureau will be fully occupied in carrying out the special investigations asked for by other Government Departments, particularly the Defence Service, and the general public and in improving the methods of applying the results of scientific meteorology to the general work of the Bureau.
  5. The Meteorological Department in the University should undertake at first the training of the actual and prospective staff of the Bureau in the scientific aspects of meteorology. With only one lecturer it will not be able to undertake much research; but it is highly desirable that the University, with Government help, should create, in the course of time, a Meteorological Institute provided with the necessary Observatory and laboratories similar to those in America and Europe. Here postgraduate students and men working for the Doctor's degree would undertake research in meteorology as a science and not as a technical subject.
    1. The lines which should be adopted by each in pursuing research and training activities.

    The Bureau should always remember that it is established by Government to provide the country with the meteorological information required by the agriculturist, the seaman, the aviator, and the general public. It is a utilitarian Service like the Post Office. Its training and research activities should, therefore, be confined as closely as possible to improving its technical work. On the other hand, a University should not be a technical school; its main objects should be scientific research, irrespective of its immediate application, and instruction in scientific knowledge. A full realisation of these fundamental differences in the purposes of a Government Weather Bureau and a University will be a help in allotting their respective activities.
  6. At the same time the distinction is not sharp and it is not always possible to carry out in practice what the simple theory suggests. Thus, until the Universities are in a position to carry out intense research, it would be legitimate, and even desirable, for the Bureau to undertake pure research whenever staff is available and similarly until the Universities have highly trained staff available for research there is no reason why less difficult problems of the nature of special investigation should not be carried out by them.
    1. The methods of cooperation and coordination calculated to ensure absence of duplication and the maximum use of each of the facilities which can be made available by the other.

    In the present early stage in the development of meteorology in the Australian Universities, with only one whole time lecturer in Meteorology in the whole of Australia, there can be no better coordination than the personal relationship between the Reader in Meteorology and the Director of the Weather Bureau. If this personal relationship is close the coordination will be close.
  7. Every facility should be given to the Reader to become acquainted with the work of the Bureau and he should familiarise himself with the methods employed in the day to day work of the Bureau and interest himself in the problems of greatest importance to the professional meteorologist. The Director of the Weather Bureau should keep the Reader informed of the number and types of men he is likely to require in the course of the next few years. The Reader should bring to the notice of the Director any promising young man and suggest that he should be encouraged to undertake a post-graduate course in Meteorology by an understanding that he would be offered a post in the Bureau.
  8. Visits of students to the Bureau and its out-stations should be allowed. The supply of data, "forms" and charts for use in the classes at the University should be arranged and facilities should be given for the use of the Bureau library by the Reader and his students. If there is an Advisory Committee to supervise the work of the Bureau, the Reader in Meteorology should be a member.

(Sgd) George C. Simpson.
11 March 1939.

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Gardner, J. 1997 'Stormy Weather: A History of Research in the Bureau of Meteorology', Metarch Papers, No. 11 December 1997, Bureau of Meteorology

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