Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the Memory—Before the Warming Boom
Doing Climatology before the Warming Boom
Hubert Lamb was never formally trained as a meteorologist. Nor did he train as a climatologist. His entry into that field was something of a trick of fate.
Joining the Meteorological Office as a cadet weather forecaster, Lamb’s formal training was forever postponed. Instead, Lamb learned on the job while taking up posts in Scotland, Ireland, on a whaling ship in the south ocean, in Malta and in Germany. In 1954 he found himself back in the England, a permanent employee without a position. At the age of 40, with nowhere else to go, he was placed temporarily in the climatology department. The limited tenure with climatology was soon forgotten and he remained there until 1971, during which time the bulk of his research was completed.
The timing of Lamb’s entry into climatology was fortuitous. Expensive new primary research (geological, oceanographic and cryogenic) initiated in the International Geophysical Year (1957-8) was pointing toward climatic variability during very recent geological time. These findings, linked with all sorts of speculation about extreme weather events during the 1960s, provoked interest in climatic change. Upon this interest rode Lamb’s notoriety. He found himself increasingly in demand, and soon the volume of inquiries by post and telephone, and the requests for lectures and articles, began to restrict the time available to progress his research. Nonetheless, under the directorship of Graham Sutton, Lamb’s attempts to reconstruct past climates were valued, supported and encouraged. When Lamb finally published the first hefty volume of his magnum opus, Sutton would write a glowing forward.
…climatology is more than a branch of physics and it is in the wider aspects of its study that the unique nature of this book lies…This is the book that I always hoped Mr Lamb would write….I know of no other work in this field that approaches it in scope and reliability. I have no doubt that what I have been reading are the proofsheets of a classic of meteorology, and that here, if anywhere, climatology really enters into its own.
Such sentiments were not shared by many of Lamb’s colleagues and certainly not by the new director of the Met Office, B J Mason, appointed after Sutton retired in 1965. The new director was a vocal skeptic of cyclic natural climatic change across historical time, the nature of which Lamb was intent on establishing. Mason preferred to explain recent changes as evidence of only random fluctuations on different time scales [1, 2]. He made it clear that he did not value Lamb’s work and expressed concerns about Mr Lamb’s lack of qualifications as a climatologist. But there was more behind Mason’s dim view of Lambs efforts to glean climate data from historical archives.