A comparison of the lives of the Bjerknes family of
researchers – Carl Anton (1825-903), Vilhelm (1862-1951), and Jakob
(1897-1975) reveal unique parallelisms that are significant to the
history of meteorology and to this great family legacy of scholars.
1. Personal Choice
Some of these parallelisms were caused by international
events, while others were by personal choice. In the following
presentation, I will discuss four notable occurrences: 1) personal
decisions to postpone scholarship to support a father’s research 2)
relocations due to international conflicts 3) establishment of world
renowned schools of meteorology and 4) funding from the Carnegie
Institute of Washington.
Both Vilhelm and Jakob
willingly postponed their education and personal research interests
in order to support their respective father’s scientific
Vilhelm earned a Norwegian
Doctorate in 1892 at the age of 30. He preferred electromagnetic
wave studies above his father’s interest in hydrodynamic theory.
Through Carl Anton’s influence, a position was created at the
Stockholm H»gskola. Thus at the age of 31, Vilhelm was in his first
academic position and not as his father’s assistant. In 1895,
however, Vilhelm dedicated
his efforts to hydrodynamic activity and withdrew his personal
research to prepare a manuscript on his father’s investigations.2
In 1903, he published the
first two volumes of "Hydrodynamic action at a distance according to
C. A. Bjerknes’ Theory."
During the 1980’s and 1880’s
Carl Anton Bjerknes worked in relative isolation of hydrodynamic
analogies. In 1882, Carl represented Norway at the Paris
International Electric Exhibition where he gained international
recognition on his electromagnetic theory and analogies which was
successfully demonstrated by his son, Vilhelm. Vilhelm continued to
assist his father until 1889, when at the age of 27 he "had to get
away … to develop his own skills and career opportunities."
It is interesting to note
that Vilhelm’s first publication was in 1882, when he was 20 years
old, on hydrodynamic investigations.
Like his father, Jakob interrupted and postponed his studies to
support his father’s investigations. In 1917, at the age of 18,
Jakob interrupted his studies in Norway and joined his father at the
Leipzig Institute in Germany as an assistant. Jakob, willingly did
so without question. The relocation was due to the death of
Vilhelm’s former assistant, Herbert Petzold, who was killed at
Verdun in 1916.3
By June 1918, Jakob had
returned to Norway with his father and had set up an experimental
weather station in West Norway.4
He continued working as an
assistant for this father until 1939, when, at the age of 42, he
stayed in the United States following the invasion of Norway. More
details on this event in the next chapter.
1 Friedman, Robert
Marc. Appropriating the weather. Ithaca : Cornell University Press,
2 Ibid., p.17.
2. Relocations During International Conflicts
Both World Wars interrupted
the lives of the Bjerknes family.
Vilhelm had relocated to
Leipzig, Germany in January 1913, having accepted an appointment as
the first director at the Leipzig Institute in the field of
This decision enabled Vilhelm
to secure better research support and income for his family. He was
given several research assistants and a staff. This changed with the
outbreak of the conflict. "Most students and assistants had been
called into military service, and most had been killed."6
Food shortages were acute.
The situation was resolved
during the summer of 1917, when colleagues in Norway established a
position for Vilhelm at the Bergen Museum. Vilhelm resigned his
position at Leipzig and accepted the position at Bergen. Thus began
the famed Bergen School of Meteorology with Jakob as an assistant in
Jakob’s relocation during World War II was even more dramatic. He
and his family were on an eight-month lecture tour in the United
States in 1939,7
when the European conflict
began. He did not return to Norway. He organized a training school
for military weather officers at the University of California.
1940, he joined the faculty of the University of California at Los Angeles.
Jakob, his wife, son, and daughter became U.S. citizens.
3. Schools of Meteorology
Both established Schools of
The internationally famed
Bergen School owes its existence to Vilhelm Bjerknes, and to his
leadership in establishing weather forecasting systems, atmospheric
models, convergence, polar fronts, and numerical prediction, among
many other concepts that are basics in today’s meteorology. The
highest periods of discovery and productivity were in the 1920 and
Jakob continued the family
legacy by establishing a new Department of Meteorology at the
University of California at Los Angeles in 1945. He specially chose
Los Angeles for its proximity to the Scripps Oceanographic
Institution in La Jolla, CA. Jakob’s insight regarding the importance of oceanography
to weather prediction foreshadows his correlation of El Nino and ocean
Eliassen, Arnt. Jacob Aall
Bonnevie Bjerknes…Internet :
4 Friedman, p.94
5 Friedman, p. 84-87.
6 Ibid. p, 99
7 Eliassen, p.5
4. International Funding
Both Vilhelm and Jakob benefited from
funding by the Carnegie Institute of Washington. In 1906, Vilhelm applied for and received
an initial grant of five years from the Carnegie Institute that enabled him to hire an
assistant. This funding continued for over thirty years and stopped upon the invasion of
Norway in 1939. For most of this time, Jakob was the recipient of this funding as he
was, for a time, Vilhelm’s only assistant, and later primary assistant.
Whereas Vilhelm was, for most of the time,
his father’s (Carl Anton) unpaid but dedicated advocate of his theories, Jakob
benefited from American research funds.
In conclusion, the similarities and
parallel events within this family of meteorologists are remarkable and awe inspiring.
I close with an offer of compact discs
containing scanned copies of original coursework and articles created by Jakob Bjerknes
while he was a professor at UCLA. There are four documents on the disc. There is a draft of
an article with annotations in the margins, the printed article, class notes and