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Election Year: 1994
Scientific Discipline: Geophysics
Membership Type: Member
Meteorologist James R. Holton studied the composition and movement of Earth’s atmosphere. His early research explained the forces behind a phenomenon called the quasi-biennial oscillation, a tropospheric wind shift at the latitude of the equator every two to three years that influences seasonal hurricanes, cyclones, monsoons, and other weather patterns around the world. In later work, he studied how air in the troposphere circulates between the poles and the equator, and how air changes chemically as it rises from surface-level to the troposphere.
Holton studied physics as an undergraduate at Harvard, earning his bachelors degree in 1960. He completed his PhD in meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964 and accepted a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Stockholm with the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation. Upon returning to the United States, Holton began teaching at the University of Washington, quickly rising to full professor in 1969. He remained on the faculty of the University of Washington for the duration of his career.
In addition to teaching and research, Holton joined important international projects, working with NASA on an upper-atmosphere research satellite that was launched in 1991 and with a group at Oxford University that developed another satellite recording instrument launched shortly after his death. Holton received the American Meteorological Society’s Meisinger Award for young scientists and its most prestigious research award, the Carl G. Rossby Medal. He also received the American Geophysical Union’s most prestigious research award, the Roger Revelle Medal.