At the dawn of global climate modeling: the strange case of the Leith atmosphere model
History of Geo- and Space Sciences
Abstract. A critical stage in the development of our ability to model and project climate change occurred in the late 1950s–early 1960s when the first primitive-equation atmospheric general circulation models (AGCMs) were created. A rather idiosyncratic project to develop an AGCM was conducted virtually alone by Cecil E. Leith starting near the end of the 1950s. The Leith atmospheric model (LAM) appears to have been the first primitive-equation AGCM with a hydrological cycle and the first with
... and the first with a vertical resolution extending above the tropopause. It was certainly the first AGCM with a diurnal cycle, the first with prognostic clouds, and the first to be used as the basis for computer animations of the results. The LAM project was abandoned in approximately 1965, and it left almost no trace in the journal literature. Remarkably, the recent internet posting of a half-century-old computer animation of LAM-simulated fields represents the first significant "publication" of results from this model. This paper summarizes what is known about the history of the LAM based on the limited published articles and reports as well as transcripts of interviews with Leith and others conducted in the 1990s and later.