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In Memory of James Reed Holton (1938-2004)

James R. Holton, 65, died on March 3, 2004 in University Hospital Seattle, Washington. Jim had suffered a stroke and heart attack while taking his mid-day run at Husky Stadium on February 24, 2004. He seemed in perfect health at the time. James R. Holton had been a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington for 38 years. He was a highly respected researcher, member of the National Academy of Sciences and the author of a leading textbook in dynamic Meteorology.

Jim Holton was a great friend and supporter of the SPARC Project. He led a NATO workshop on “Stratosphere -Troposphere Exchange”, which was held in Cambridge, England, just prior to the first formal meeting of the SPARC SSG in September of 1993. Jim was an outstanding teacher, a lucid and engaging lecturer, and a formidable organizer and promoter of SPARC-related research initiatives.

Jim Holton leaves a tremendous legacy in the scientists he helped to develop. He supervised 26 doctoral students, many of whom have gone on to leadership roles, particularly in SPARC-related fields. In addition, he worked with about 20 postdoctoral visitors at the University of Washington, most of whom have become scientific leaders, including the current Co-Chair of the SPARC SSG, Alan O’Neill.

Jim Holton was born in Spokane, Washington, and grew up in nearby Pullman, the site of Washington State University where his father studied diseases of wheat and was director of a USDA laboratory. J. Holton was senior class president and valedictorian of 1956 at Pullman High School. He went to Harvard College, where he received a B.S. degree in physics in 1960. While a junior at Harvard, he met Margaret Pickens, who later became his wife of 40 years. They were married after Jim’s second year as a graduate student at MIT. Jim worked with Professor Jule Charney at MIT and earned his Ph.D. in 1964.

He received an offer of employment from the University of Washington in his home state, but he had also received an NSF postdoctoral fellowship. The University of Washington waited while he and Margaret enjoyed a year in Stockholm, Sweden, where Jim visited the group of Bert Bolin. J. Holton took up his assistant professor position in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington in 1965 and remained there, except for occasional sojourns around the world, until his death.

His first work had to do with studying fluid dynamics in the laboratory using rotating tanks of salt water. He studied the role of viscous boundary layers in transient flow situations, which led to an important paper on the nocturnal jet along the eastern slope of the Rockies. In 1968 he was author of four important papers on the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation of the tropical stratosphere, including a paper with R.S. Lindzen, which is regarded as giving the essential explanation of the QBO.

J. Holton continued to work on tropical dynamics and wave interactions through the early 1970s. The first edition of his textbook was published in 1972. He received the Meisinger Award of the American Meteorological Society in 1973. J. Holton visited the Department of Applied Math and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University in 1973-74 and his monograph on the dynamical meteorology of the stratosphere and mesosphere was published in 1975. This monograph marked the beginning of a long relationship with the questions and characters that form the SPARC community. In 1976 he published papers describing two models of the stratosphere; a semi-spectral GCM and a simpler beta-plane model of stratospheric vacillation cycles.

In the early 1980s, he did some observational work showing the interaction between the QBO and the global stratospheric circulation and its relation to stratospheric wave driving. In 1982 he was awarded the Second Half Century Award of the AMS, which was later renamed the Charney Award. In 1983, he began working on the role of gravity waves in the stratosphere, and in 1984 wrote a review article on the water vapour puzzle of the stratosphere. Through the mid 1980s, he worked on dynamically based transport parameterisations for the stratosphere. In 1987, he published a co-authored book with David Andrews and Conway Leovy entitled “Middle Atmosphere Dynamics”.

The themes of atmospheric dynamics, stratosphere-troposphere constituent exchange, and gravity wave – mean flow interaction continued to benefit from Holton’s insight and leadership for the remainder of his life. At the time of his death he was heavily engaged in planning for the Aura Satellite launch, the use of HIRDLS data, and various field programmes designed to resolve questions relating to the role of the tropical tropopause transition layer in stratosphere-troposphere exchange of energy and constituents. Jim was extremely productive until his sudden departure. Both the fourth edition of “An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology” and “The Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences”, which he co-edited with Judy Curry and John Pyle, appeared in print in 2004. The new edition of his classic text is updated and expanded, and includes a CD with Matlab examples and exercises.

Jim Holton won virtually every award available to an atmospheric scientist. In 1994, he was named a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. He received an honorary doctorate from the Stockholm University and an honorary professorship from the University of Buenos Aires in 1998. He was awarded the Roger Revelle Medal of the AGU in 2000 and the Rossby Research Medal of the AMS in 2001 – the highest awards for excellence in research given by these two professional societies. He served as Chairman of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington from 1997-2002.

Jim will be greatly missed by his wife Margaret; sons Eric and Dennis; Daughter-in-law Gretchen; grandchildren Jake, Bailey and Noah; sisters Janet and Shirley; friends and colleagues around the world. A memorial celebration was held at the University of Washington on 3 April 2004. His colleagues and students repeatedly testified to the kindness, generosity and humanity that accompanied both his scientific excellence and his athletic prowess.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the James Holton Building Fund at New Hope Farms, P.O. Box 89, Goldendale Washington 98620, USA.

Dennis L. Hartmann

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