Simpson, George Clarke

August 22, 2012, 1:46 pm

Sir George Clarke Simpson, K.C.B., F.R.S. , (1878–1965) was a British meteorologist who played an important role in the early discussions about the self-regulating nature of the the Earth's climate system, and in operational meteorology.

Simpson was educated at Derby School, Owens College, Manchester and the University of Göttingen. He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by the universities of Manchester, Sydney and Aberdeen. Simpson was the first lecturer in meteorology at a British University, the University of Manchester, in 1905. In December 1906, Simpson was appointed as Imperial Meteorologist in the Simla Headquarters of the India Meteorological Department. There he carried out extensive inspections of meteorological stations in India and Burma (now Myanmar). In 1910, Simpson left on a 3-year leave to join as a member of the British Expedition to the South Pole under the leadership of Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Simpson brought with him a well-calibrated set of meteorological instruments, and with them recorded the temperature and wind observations at the base camp at Cape Evans for two years 1911-12. He had also held command of this station when Scott and his party went to the South Pole, never to return.

After the end of World War I in 1918, Simpson was appointed as the Director of the Meteorological Office, London, a position he held from 1920 to 1938, during which he was engaged in research work in the fields of atmospheric electricity, ionization, radioactivity and solar radiation. One of his major contributions to operational meteorology was the modification of the Beaufort Wind Scale which made it possible to use it over land. Simpson’s scale, introduced in 1926, is still in use although his name is not associated with it.

In the 1930s Simpson published a number of papers that speculated on the feedback mechanisms that would be triggered by changes in the atmospheric concentration of CO2. In 1937 he suggested that, paradoxically, an increase of solar radiation might bring on an ice age. His reasoning was that a rise in the Sun's radiation would warm the equator more than the poles, evaporating more water from the tropics and increasing the rate of the general circulation of the atmosphere. This would bring more snowfall in the higher latitudes, snow that would accumulate into ice sheets. The albedo of the ice sheets would cool the poles. Furthermore, "the ice which enters the sea from these regions will have a large effect on remote regions," cooling the entire hemisphere. In 1939 he suggested that any increase of temperature would allow the air to hold more moisture, where it would create more clouds, which would reflect sunlight away, moderating the heat and restoring the climate equilibrium.

Like the work of many of his contemporaries, Simpson's theories were based on imperfect and incomplete understandings of the climate system, and would later be usurped by more sophisticated models. However, his work played an important role in the early debates about climate change from which subsequent, more authoritative work would evolve.


Further Reading

  • Simpson, George C. (1934). "World Climate During the Quaternary Period." Quarterly J. Royal Meteorological Society 60: 425-71.
  • Simpson, George C. (1937). "Ice Ages." Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 30: 125-142.
  • Simpson, George C. (1939-40). "Probable Causes of Change in Climate and Their Limitations." Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London 152: 190-219.




Cleveland, C. (2012). Simpson, George Clarke. Retrieved from


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