Interview of Thomas Gray by Raimund E. Goerler

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dc.contributor Goerler, Raimund E. (Raimund Erhard), 1948- en
dc.creator Gray, Thomas, 1919- en 2006-06-01T18:58:36Z 2006-06-01T18:58:36Z 2000-02-17 2006-06-01T18:58:36Z
dc.identifier Record Group Number: 56.44 en
dc.description Aarruiz, Alberto, Argentine meteorologist, pp. 7, 18 Alt, John, French meteorologist, pp. 7, 17 Astapenko, Paul, Russian meteorologist, pp. 7, 16-17 Cochran, Henry, American meteorologist, pp. 7, 23 Crary, Albert, explorer, pp. 19, 23 Gould, Larry, Head official for the Antarctic program in 1957-58, p. 5 Morley, Keith, Australian meteorologist, pp. 7, 18, Rao, P. Krisna , meteorologist, p. 28 Ropar, Nick, American meteorologist, p. 7 Wexler, Henry, prominent meteorologist, pp. 3-6, 25 en
dc.description.abstract After a year of graduate study in meteorology at the University of Chicago, Thomas Gray was hired in 1941 by the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C. He advanced rapidly and soon became the senior analyst and assistant forecaster in the Extended Forecast department. In 1957, upon the recommendation of Dr. Harry Wexler and others, Gray was selected to be head of the Antarctic Weather Center at the Little America base. He served from November, 1957 until January, 1959. The Center was a truly international operation. Meteorologists worked there from many nations who participated in the International Geophysical Year (IGY), including South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia, France, and the USSR. All of the staff worked under Gray’s direction. The Weather Center provided daily weather information to all stations in the Antarctic, and occasionally for particular air flights. Most of the men also found time to do work on individual research projects. Gray’s own role was primarily that of a facilitator to other researchers. The weather central operated daily from 5:00 A.M. until 2:00 A.M the next day. Gray’s American assistants were Nick Ropar and Henry Cockran, plus several others from different nations, all of whom were required to speak English. Communications were primitive at the time and so weather information had to be forwarded through Morse code. Weather maps had to be plotted continually on sounding sheets based on the four synoptic hours of the day, at zero, six, twelve, and eighteen hours. Surface maps were plotted which routinely required calculations to an altitude up to 10,000 feet, as well as occasionally up to 50,000 to 70,000 feet. Sounding information had to be taken from the various radiosons throughout the continent. In making final determinations, or forecasts, the expertise of the individual meteorologist was always crucial. The men worked four days, took a day off, and then came back for another four-day stint. Once the analysis was done the men had to encipher all of the information so that it could be broadcast around the continent and even to whaling ships. Despite their constant vigilance, on such a vast continent there were always gaps in the weather data, and so it was possible to overlook an entire storm. Antarctica was in truth a vast desert and received very little new snow; the storms were caused by blowing snow. Little America was a rather large base, and it held over 100 people. There were scientists, and also Navy personnel. The base had generators for heating huts and melting snow for drinking water and other purposes. There were huts for sleeping, general living quarters, recreation, a chapel, latrines, administrative offices, and washing machines. Gray’s initial personal reaction to Antarctica was a feeling that he would never warm up, and he felt a deep regret that he had agreed to serve there. But by summer he was so acclimated to the place that he went about with only an undershirt and a shirt above his waist. In living quarters any water spilled on the floor would freeze, but the overhead portion would reach temperatures of 99 to 110 degrees, more than warm enough to thaw the frozen cans of Coca-Cola and beer purchased at the base store. A tunnel connected the various huts. Once inside the huts the men usually felt warm enough above the waist but cool to cold below it. Heaters were run by jet fuel. A far greater concern for meteorologists than room temperature was inconsistent communications. Sometimes these were very bad. On rare occasions a severe storm might be missed for lack of data. Whiteouts and blizzards, both based on blowing snow, could rise up to 1500 feet. In such conditions airplanes and helicopters could not see the horizon, and a crash could result. On the other hand once the storm passed you could have beautiful weather, and the forecasters’s task then was to predict how long it might last so that certain jobs might be accomplished while the good weather lasted. One of the challenges facing Gray and his associates was harmoniously integrating the diverse staff in a time of international tensions. Two members were from the USSR. Both spoke English. One man, Paul Astapenko from Leningrad, was very personable and participated in the mini-university organized on the base. He taught a class in Russian. John Alt from France taught a class in French. There was some tension between men from Chile and Argentina since their two countries both claimed the Palmer Peninsula, also known as the Antarctic Peninsula, a claim recognized by no other countries. Keith Morley, Australian, fit in very well on the team. Nor did Gray recall any serious problems between the scientists on his team and the U.S. Navy personnel at Little America. The scientists were required to keep their living quarters and working spaces in orderly, neat condition, but they were not required to do such tasks as dishwashing or mop ups. The most serious tension at the base was between the two contingencies of the Navy, the VX6 group that ran the airport, and the Seabees who handled construction. One dispute concerned sled dogs from the VX6 group contaminating the designated area used for collecting pure snow for making drinking water. Another source of tension was the absence of women on the base. Movies provided a welcome recreation; they were shown daily. There was a sauna, but it was heated by oil and sometimes the room temperature reached 250 degrees at the same time the outside temperature reached minus 72 degrees. On Sunday afternoons there was a bridge tournament. There was a pool table, a weight room, library, chapel, and ham radio. There was also a kind of mini-university, but most of the students were Navy enlisted personnel, and very few of the scientists took part. In general the specialists had little interest in what other scientists were doing unless it affected their immediate area such as weather reports. Gray recounted what he saw as his most positive achievement at Little America. His research on the origins of thermal structures in and around Antarctica was widely disseminated although never published. Several Ph.D. students used his research in their dissertations. He also did important research on the use of satellite meteorology so as better to measure cloud shadows and patterns, and to determine how this data could aid pilots engaged in mapping projects. One of the great things in Antarctic research has been the discovery of the hole in the ozone in Antarctica. Gray did some important research on ozone, and the conditions that might cause it to disappear in the atmosphere. With regard to global warming Gray acknowledged that world temperatures have risen in recent decades, but he pointed out that most temperature readings are taken at the airports of major cities, and these constitute “heat islands” which might skew the overall readings. Gray left Antarctica on January 6, 1958, and the station at Little America was closed down for good. He relocated to Melbourne Australia to the International Antarctic Analysis Centre (IAAC) that continued the weather analysis program. Gray was able to have his family with him in Melbourne. He remained in Australia until February, 1962. His last major career assignment was as a meteorologist with the space program. Major Topics Grays’s role as a meteorologist in Antarctica from 1956 to 1958 Operation of the weather central station at Little America Personal challenges for the crew living in harsh conditions Integrating an international staff with U.S. military personnel Research advances in ozone studies, global warming, satellite meteorology, etc. Key Individuals Mentioned Aarruiz, Alberto, Argentine meteorologist, pp. 7, 18 Alt, John, French meteorologist, pp. 7, 17 Astapenko, Paul, Russian meteorologist, pp. 7, 16-17 Cochran, Henry, American meteorologist, pp. 7, 23 Crary, Albert, explorer, pp. 19, 23 Gould, Larry, Head official for the Antarctic program in 1957-58, p. 5 Morley, Keith, Australian meteorologist, pp. 7, 18, Rao, P. Krisna , meteorologist, p. 28 Ropar, Nick, American meteorologist, p. 7 Wexler, Henry, prominent meteorologist, pp. 3-6, 25 en
dc.description.sponsorship Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. en
dc.format.extent Audio Duration (Part 1): 01:28:56 en_US
dc.format.extent Audio Duration (Part 2): 00:47:15 en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en
dc.publisher Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program en_US
dc.relation.isformatof 2 audio tapes available in the OSU Archives en
dc.relation.ispartofseries Polar Oral History Program en
dc.rights Restrictions: This item is not restricted. en
dc.subject.lcsh Antarctica -- Social life and customs en
dc.subject.lcsh International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958 -- Interviews en
dc.subject.lcsh Meteorology -- Antarctica -- Interviews en
dc.subject.lcsh Antarctica -- Discovery and exploration -- Interviews en
dc.subject.other Gray, Thomas, 1919- -- Interviews en
dc.subject.other International Geophysical Year (IGY) (1957-1958) en
dc.title Interview of Thomas Gray by Raimund E. Goerler en
dc.type Transcript en
dc.type Recording, oral en