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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Donald Pack

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Interview with Dr. Donald Pack
By Spencer Weart
In McLean, Virginia
April 25, 1991

 
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Donald Pack; April 25, 1991

ABSTRACT: Brief career history - Weather Bureau, Air Force, New York University; Air Resources Laboratory; research on atmospheric diffusion and transport, pollution; CO2 monitoring with Charles D. Keeling; CFC monitoring with James Lovelock; administering program to set up atmospheric monitoring stations; instrumentation development and support; funding.

Transcript

Weart:

I'd like to go back to the beginning. I am interested in general in how people get started — your beginning. Where did you get trained in meteorology; a quick curriculum vitae.

Pack:

That was during the war time. At NYU I did the usual things one did in the Air Force during the war. That is, forecasting and this and that.

Weart:

Why did you go into meteorology in the first place?

Pack:

Well I was already in it before the war. I took a couple of Civil Service exams and decided I would take whatever came up first. The Weather Bureau came up first.

Weart:

Was it because it was the Depression, do you think? Did that have anything to do with it?

Pack:

Oh yes. Our area had been very badly hit. My father was out of work for about seven years. Things got a little tough so you grabbed whatever you could. Anyway, I went to work for the Weather Bureau as an observer. I just enjoyed it no end. It was fun, and I had been in science in college —

Weart:

So you were already oriented towards physical science?

Pack:

Yes, sort of. Engineering more than that but science enough to appreciate it. We had a lot of fun and then of course that made it natural when I enlisted that I applied for one of the Jobs. My eyes are so bad (in fact that is part of my problem now, I see four of you guys so I don't dare drive). But in any event I applied for and went to cadet school. I got out and after the war applied to return to the Weather Bureau and I did.

Weart:

Now when was NYU in there?

Pack:

When was that? — 1942.

Weart:

So you did war-time study at NYU?

Pack:

Actually there were the so-called cadet tours.

Weart:

In meteorology?

Pack:

Yes. We all went through that. That was a real bear-cat at NYU. They poured three years into nine months.

Weart:

Who was teaching that, do you know?

Pack:

There were half-a-dozen guys, in-service and out. The ones that I remember best were Gardner Emmons and, well, there were lots of them: George Cressman was an instructor. He was the head of the Weather Bureau for several years. We had practically everybody up there. That was in early 1942. I came back as an instructor in late 1943 (very late) and stayed there for about a year and started perambulating around the country; Mitchell Field and Peterson Field and Colorado Springs and so on.

Weart:

I see. So then you just stayed in the Weather Bureau after the war?

Pack:

Yes. After I got out of the army I was as sick of that bureaucracy as I was of any other and so I applied at the Weather Bureau. And they sent me, of all places, to L.A. You didn't have to know anything about meteorology to work in L.A. — nothing at all really. But they put us to work out there. And then I've had several different careers in the Weather Bureau. I got tired of that "nothing forecasting" so I went down to the regional office as a — I don't know what you'd call it — "technical assistant," which meant you were a dogs body and would run around doing things for everybody. Then they closed the regional office there and sent me to Alaska. I spent three fascinating years in Alaska, which was a precursor to this.

Weart:

Observing or forecasting?

Pack:

No, I was the chief of the inspection system we had up there — quality control — over everything but forecasting. We were in charge of everything from suicides to new wind instruments. At the end of that three years my wife and I decided to get the hell out. Anyway, she was pregnant and so we did [get out]. About that time Bob Culnan, who is an old-line Office for Research man, remembered my name. He was at NYU on the faculty. When it came up, I just fell into it at a place called Portsmouth, Ohio. There was a big gaseous diffusion plant building out there and my job was to essentially pour concrete without getting it wet. We managed that I think mostly because that summer the climate was very dry.

Weart:

So you were doing the meteorology for the construction but this didn't have anything to do yet with the diffusion studies and pollutants or anything like that?

Pack:

No, although you couldn't help but get interested in it. So, we did. Then at the conclusion of that, when the plant construction was about done, I transferred to Washington and went to work for Les Machta at ARL [Air Resources Laboratory]. Why, I don't know. I've never understood that at all.

Weart:

I am wondering, because he was closely connected with the AEC and its monitoring of fallout — I wonder if that had anything to do with it?

Pack:

So was I, but then maybe it did because I had a Q clearance. I don't know.

Weart:

That would help. That would take six months or something, right?

Pack:

Right. Well, in any event I went there and Harry Wexler gave me the job of putting out a booklet called "Meteorology and Atomic Energy."

Weart:

This would have been around the mid-1950s then?

Pack:

1960s — mid 1960s.

Weart:

Was that when Portsmouth was built — that late?

Pack:

Yes. Wait a minute — you're right. It was mid-1950s. Because I came down there in 1953.

Weart:

So this was just the time when the Weather Bureau was being concerned about people saying that the bombs were changing the weather.

Pack:

There was a lot of that. Machta (?) did a lot of that.

Weart:

Was this what your booklet was about — to reassure people?

Pack:

No. It was an instruction manual really, on atmospheric diffusion and on nuclear energy in particular. You know, the question of radioactive decay and the elements that went into it. I don't know, sort of a catch-all. We'd gotten it started but the guys running it got kind of behind and Harry wanted to get it out, so gave it to me and we did.

Weart:

"Atomic Energy and the Weather" it's called.

Pack:

"Meteorology and Atomic Energy" —

Weart:

Was this for the public or for meteorologists?

Pack:

It was primarily for meteorologists, as I saw it. Hell of a job, too. I was colder than heck and my academic training was long behind me and so I had to learn everything all over again.

Weart:

You had to learn all about radioactivity and everything else.

Pack:

But it was interesting. So we got that out of the way and one thing led to another. After that we did mostly atmospheric diffusion and transport work.

Weart:

You were working on the classified side, I suppose?

Pack:

Well, some. But not as much as Lester did, but some. We had a lot of that. In fact, we had a lot of photographs in the book and added parts of it had to be blacked out because the buildings were collapsed. I don't know. I just sort of fell into the job of running things. The locations we had to set up. I was at Oak Ridge for a while, filling in as the scientist in charge between Josh Holland and Frank Gifford for some months. Fred White, who was my boss, recruited Frank Gifford at that time — one of the sharpest moves that was ever made. Gifford is really a sharp, theoretical mind — a pleasure to work with. In fact, that's been half the fun of the whole thing — is the great guys you get to work with.

Weart:

I know that Machta has stayed in place, that people have tended to stay. People don't run away quickly from ARL.

Pack:

No, because for one thing you couldn't get the experience elsewhere. There is no other organization like it. Why they have broken it up I will never know.

Weart:

Experience at what?

Pack:

Well, doing what you wanted to do mostly. But mostly also the science of atmospheric diffusion. There was no other center for that in the Weather Bureau at that time. It was pretty obvious that atmospheric pollution was becoming a real problem so that early in the 1960s we were approached by the Public Health Service to give them support in meteorology. So we set up an office in Cincinnati, which later moved to Raleigh and is now a real monster from what I understand — a big place.

Weart:

There are a lot of pieces here which have to do with ARL history but I really want to focus in on this particular issue now, perhaps some of this background of this CO2 monitoring, so tell me about that.

Pack:

Well that started in the IGY (International Geophysical Year) in 1958 when Charles Keeling came looking for support. We'd had a small observatory at Mauna Loa for years —

Weart:

Observing what?

Pack:

Oh, meteorology mostly.

Weart:

The cloud cover, the wind, all that sort of stuff?

Pack:

The usual sorts of things. But then Keeling came along and wanted to find a spot free from local contamination.

Weart:

Now the Mauna Loa thing hadn't been established with that in mind. It just was a —

Pack:

It's hard to say.

Weart:

People have always put weather stations on mountain tops.

Pack:

Well sort of, I guess. Bob Simpson had a lot to do with that. Why it went up at the time I don't know. Anyhow, they had a physicist there. They were doing solar radiation measurements with a physicist named Jack Pales, who did some very good work on that, but as I say Keeling came along and Harry Wexler was convinced that this was important for the obvious reasons of the characteristics of CO2. He supported Keeling in the measurements. Keeling was the only one that was making absolute quantitative measurements of CO2. So without that, you just had the sort of fiction that went before. After all, people had been measuring CO2 for well over 100 years, but the early measurements were poor. When Dave came along it was about 280 parts per million but you could tell it was going up.

Weart:

That was a subject of controversy.

Pack:

It was for a little bit — for two or three years.

Weart:

Until he got his figures.

Pack:

Yes. Then it became so obvious that it was pitiful.

Weart:

At what point did you personally become involved in this work?

Pack:

The early 1960s inasmuch we took over the Mauna Loa observatory about that time.

Weart:

I know there was sort of a budget crisis in 1963. There was a gap in the records then. Was this before or after that time?

Pack:

That was during.

Weart:

What can you tell me about that?

Pack:

Well, I don't remember much about that because at the time we weren't too concerned with that. We were trying to get scientists at PHS [the Public Health Service].

Weart:

Part of the outcome of that was that it came under ARL?

Pack:

Yes, well it did and it didn't. Things were so convoluted. The regional office still ran Mauna Loa as an observatory.

Weart:

Where was the regional office located?

Pack:

In L.A.

Weart:

The Weather Bureau's regional office?

Pack:

No. Yes, but it was in Hawaii. They still ran things like the road, all that kind of junk — but we budgeted for and funded the science part. Then we started making more consistent measurements. I say more consistent, but that's not quite true — more routine CO2 measurements. Have you ever met Dave Keeling?

Weart:

Not yet.

Pack:

You will find him a most interesting individual.

Weart:

In fact, I know so little about him that I am puzzled as to why sometimes he is called Dave and sometimes he is called Charles. You call him both. How does he call himself? D.C. Keeling, right?

Pack:

C.D. Keeling —

Weart:

I didn't even have that right!

Pack:

I don't know what he calls himself.

Weart:

He calls himself Dave. But I have heard him called Charles, also. He signs his name Charles D. Keeling —

Pack:

But he calls himself Dave —

Weart:

I see.

Pack:

There was always the question of raising money for Keeling. You had to talk people into sponsoring him.

Weart:

Why was that?

Pack:

I don't know. Mostly because of the short-sightedness. Very few people had the concept of a long time series. I was just reviewing this before you came. This was the first volume of a series of annual volumes.

Weart:

The GMCC annual reports.

Pack:

Yes. What we said was — I'm trying to find it in here — impeccable measurements.

Weart:

Actually I am getting a Xerox of just that page you are reading.

Pack:

The idea was to develop a long-time series. We fiddled around with that for a long time and the come and go financing. Twice Keeling had to be supported under cover because we couldn't get any funds for him.

Weart:

Under the ARL money?

Pack:

Yes. But nobody was willing to quit.

Weart:

Now the money for this mostly came originally from the Weather Bureau, so you had to argue with the Weather Bureau —

Pack:

The Weather Bureau and then the NSF.

Weart:

Then it switched to the NSF so then you had to argue with the NSF.

Pack:

Yes, well we had to argue with practically everybody.

Weart:

Who were his supporters outside of ARL? Was there anybody who helped you?

Pack:

No, not that I can remember. Mainly it was Harry Wexler. He was inexorable that we had to have these measurements.

Weart:

But then he left the scene — I don't remember when.

Pack:

In the early 1960s.

Weart:

So after he was gone it must have gotten more difficult.

Pack:

Well, lesser. Machta picked it up then. That was about the time I got involved. It became so obvious. There was a paper — the author of which I was trying to remember all morning — that did a study of the greenhouse gases, and was obvious there were more than just CO2 — the fluorides, carbon tet, methane, etc. About that time, I would say 1963 or 1964, we began to realize there was a hell of a lot more to climate than just the greenhouse gases. There were the particulates and their characteristics — were they turning one direction or another? How could you determine what were the cloud nuclei trends, if any, etc., etc. We started about 1965 trying to work our way through to a clear philosophy of what had to be done. I'm rather vague on this now, but we felt that if measurements could be made in both hemispheres — of course we had the Antarctic science thing — and in more than one latitude zone, we could possibly profile the global behavior of the greenhouse guess. Also we had contact with James Lovelock.

Weart:

When you say "we" you mean —

Pack:

The lab [ARL] because of his detection equipment which was, of course, superb in the electron capture things. I got to working with him on the CFCs just for the hell of it because the record was there and he'd done a few things with it which looked at from a meteorologist's standpoint, were rather naive. After all, he wasn't a meteorologist. So we got to fiddling around with it and about that time started to put together a budget package to go through the usual mill —

Weart:

To submit to ESSA [Environmental Science Services Administration], I guess it would have been at that time.

Pack:

Yes, well in any event in 1969 we almost made it. In 1970 we did, primarily due to the Deputy Director Jack Townsend. He had looked over our proposals and called me over one day and wanted a briefing. I spent an hour or more with him trying to convince him that we knew what we wanted to do, that we had means to do it and there was good reason for it.

Weart:

The reason being?

Pack:

The reason being basically global climate change.

Weart:

Anthropogenic climate change or just climate change?

Pack:

Climate change but weighted very heavily towards the anthropogenic, the CO2 part of it and the CFCs. Anyway, Bob White — who was director then — turned us down. Jack wasn't convinced that it was a good idea to turn us down. So after this briefing he interceded and from then on we had a friend at court. As a matter of fact, he robbed Joe Smagorinsky of $600,000 as part of our first budget.

Weart:

So that's where it came from.

Pack:

Well yes. That was back when computers were the thing —

Weart:

That's right, and that was a lot of money in those days, too. Not a lot of money but —

Pack:

In any event we had worked out that we could have a station in the Arctic, in the mid to low latitudes in the northern hemisphere, and in the southern hemisphere, and in Antarctica. We needed to have a beginning. We also wanted one in Bermuda so as to measure the pollutant plume off the U.S. and at the same time the different seasons — the clean air coming off the south Atlantic. Well, that never happened. I was accused of trying to work out a retirement home for myself!

Weart:

It would have been nice actually. It would have been an interesting experiment.

Pack:

Well, yes. People have sort of been doing it in a sort of half-assed fashion since then by expeditions and things. Sure enough — what we had predicted is true. In the winter time, usually, with the northwest flow you can see the pollution. Not in detail, but in general. And at other times you see Africa. Or mostly the clean air that sweeps up that way. In any event, we got our first year's budget and set out. In the meantime we hadn't been just sitting still. After all, I didn't have anything else to probe into. We started looking around for places to put observatories and one of them was Barrow, Alaska. That was easy because I had spent a lot of time in Alaska.

Weart:

You knew your way around there.

Pack:

Then I went to the National Geographic and talked to the chief geographer down there. We looked over all the islands in the South Pacific — I won't say all but those where people could be supported with a minimum of outlay — and settled on Samoa for various reasons. One thing led to another. We conned the Navy into building us an observatory at Barrow, Alaska. I say "conned" and that is the truth, although they weren't reluctant. At the time the Navy experimental lab up there was going down and they were looking for anything — I'm letting you in on a lot of stuff that was sort of swept under the rug — but in any event they thought it was a good science idea and so they helped us. That was a dilly! Because we had to go out away from their camp and build a building and get a road of sorts up to it. It was a mess but we did. About that time then, having tentatively selected Samoa or one of the French islands in the South Pacific, we started expeditions out there to check out preliminary measurements — mostly with condensation nuclei counters.

Weart:

I see. So you were starting to look for particulates as well as —

Pack:

Oh yes. By that time we were looking for particulates on Mauna Loa, trying to develop better measurement techniques.

Weart:

It's not easy to measure them.

Pack:

We were also putting in grab samples for the CFCs, flasks. So much went on about that time — the first five years — it was mind boggling.

Weart:

You were the one responsible for administering.

Pack:

Yes, it was my job to run the program — geophysical monitoring — The fun part was the expeditions to these various spots — to Barrow to get the brass. We had turned the Navy on, fairly well, to support us and we didn't have much trouble there. And then to Samoa and that was fun. We made contact with the governor's office. I met a fellow — I don't remember his name now — but we called him Brownie. He was one of the governor's personal assistants. We identified the best portions of the island, on the face of it (the best from the wind standpoint), and then he introduced us to Chief Iule, who owned the land. We went up there and negotiated this and that and the other thing. There was so much that depended on it. You didn't dare not reach an agreement.

Weart:

So you got the places set up —

Pack:

There was a question always of financial resources; trying to get enough to buy the equipment, equip the laboratory, pay the people.

Weart:

I gather that with all this program the hard part was keeping it financed rather than that were scientific questions about the instrumentation.

Pack:

I don't think we ever really had anybody question us. Everybody thought it was a good idea to build a long time series.

Weart:

And the instrumentation was not problematic — you could measure it to the level you wanted to measure it?

Pack:

Some of it. The CFCs were problematic at first. The particulates still are. We really need to determine particulates in terms of their full size spectrum and chemical constituency.

Weart:

How were you determining the particulates at that point?

Pack:

Well, straight filtration. We did use the condensation nuclei counter for cloud nuclei and we still do, as being one of the best ways. We manage to round up a couple of the old General Electric CCN[1] that they used to sniff for submarines. We got all of those we could lay our hands on, refurbished them and got them going. But we did a hell of a lot of stuff. We also reserved a certain amount of money for grants and research at Mauna Loa. All of the spots have been available to outside scientists for research.

Weart:

Before we go on with that I want to back-track a little bit but still on the question of support. I am interested not in just the direct financial support but in the outside support in the sense of techniques that come in. You mentioned Lovelock. You mentioned the sniffers developed by the military for finding submarines. Were there any other things that came in — I am especially interested because the military seems to have developed a lot of instrumentation.

Pack:

We developed a lot of the stuff ourselves. Walt Komhyr, in Boulder, is a very clever man and he modified the Dobson so it is automated (the Dobson being the measure of ozone). This is since I left. He was working on a lot of things like that, doing research on what various levels of particulates in the stratosphere might do to the ozone. That is why we got one of the directors at Mauna Loa — a kid that was very interested in LIDAR [laser ranging] — to put together a LIDAR out there. It was fairly primitive but it worked.

Weart:

When did that start? Have you been monitoring with that ever since? Since when?

Pack:

Yes, since the early 1970s.

Weart:

Do you feel your particulate series has been pretty reliable? Has it been a good series?

Pack:

Well, no. It hasn't been what is truly wanted but it does the job in that CCN are so ubiquitous and so distinctive of human interference that we were able to distinguish, I'd say without doubt, times that you had interferences and not.

Weart:

Because, of course, around the time you are speaking of in the 1970s there was a lot of scientific concern and question about how much the particulates were rising and so on.

Pack:

It turns out that apparently not. Their influence — though it may be large and that's one of the reasons I can't get too concerned with nuclear winter — is that their range is relatively short. Precipitation cleanses the atmosphere rather well and particulates last years only at very high altitudes, in which case the injection almost has to be volcanic. We were able to pick up some of the first stratospheric particulates due to volcanoes, via the laser. Now there is a global network of lasers which do nothing but that. I haven't been very busy lately. As I say, so much went on. We were trying everything but mostly bringing in scientists into the various observatories to do their thing and hopefully develop new methodology. I think by and large it's been successful. We've developed methods now for flask sampling that is almost surely free of contamination.

Weart:

When did the flask sampling begin?

Pack:

Long before — about the same time as Keeling started his continuous analyzer —

Weart:

In the 1960s.

Pack:

Yes but that is changed now — you wouldn't believe. In as much as the flasks are different, the methodology of using them is different and by and large, you sample many other gases.

Weart:

So that grew along with the rest of the program.

Pack:

Yes, like everything else. Just like topsy. Along came ERL [Earth Resources Laboratory] and stripped GMCC [Geophysical Monitoring for Climate Change Program] away from ARL, which I think is the biggest mistake.

Weart:

Are you referring to —

Pack:

I am talking about Joe Fletcher taking the climate program away from ERL.

Weart:

When exactly did that happen?

Pack:

A couple of years ago.

Weart:

1989. What was the justification for that?

Pack:

There wasn't any justification I ever heard.

Weart:

Wasn't there also a period earlier on when it wasn't under ARL for awhile — back in the mid-1960s?

Pack:

No, I don't think so.

Weart:

It was always continuously under ARL?

Pack:

Yes. Certainly all the CO2 was. Then when GMCC got started that was continuous until 1989.

Weart:

Well, that is another story. I don't want to really get into contemporary things.

Pack:

That is what I started to say. He does his thing and you can like it or not like it. But anyway, I don't have to like it.

Weart:

Were there any important events either in funding battles or controversies or problems?

Pack:

There hasn't been a —

Weart:

In the 1970s or 1980s?

Pack:

No except they dumped a hell of a lot of money on the program in the mid-1980s — about 1985 or 1986.

Weart:

When Reagan took office in 1980-81, there was a lot of pressure against all kinds of climate work and other scientific work.

Pack:

I was out of it by then.

Weart:

I see. So you didn't feel any —

Pack:

Well I did and John Miller — who's been a friend of mine for years — sort of took over "honcho-ing" the Washington end of it after I left. He and I would talk every other week or so. He'd tell me his troubles but by and large they protected the time series business.

Weart:

No matter what would happen elsewhere they recognized the importance of maintaining it.

Pack:

At least they didn't try to destroy it. It is my understanding. I won't say that anybody supported it, not until the, what the hell gave rise to the climate thing?

Weart:

In the 1980s you mean?

Pack:

Yes. I am trying to think of the event.

Weart:

Well most recently there was the 1988 drought and the testimony of Hansen — but before that there were some academy reports, there were several things.

Pack:

That I think as much as anything.

Weart:

The ozone hole?

Pack:

Yes, well — everything is added up. The ozone hole is an interesting thing.

Weart:

Let me ask you before I finish, what is your personal opinion on all this? What do you think the situation is and what do you think should be done?

Pack:

For one thing I think the monitoring program should be cast in absolute brass and expanded to the extent you can, to get better instruments for trace gases. Although the gas chromatography is doing very well. But particulates, in terms of their chemical constituents, need to be better measured. And then of course what we started out to do was to develop — we'd hoped to develop — a global network of observatories in Russia, China, maybe India; Australia came in with us very early. They've done superb work. Of course when you mention support and stuff, we got as much from the Australians, I think, as we did from any Americans. They were doing their own thing.

Weart:

In terms of supporting their own work but —

Pack:

Well, yes but also in terms of making these things known to the world — meetings and so on. We had the WMO [World Meteorological Organization] solidly behind us. They started with these so-called regional and baseline stations and that program is still, I would say as near as I can tell, in a beginning stage; only 10-15 years old. However, we don't have many baseline stations. They're hard to find.

Weart:

With the long record you mean?

Pack:

Well, yes. Long being anywhere from one year up. It's hard to get somebody to commit money for thirty years. And yet, as I once told Jack Townsend, if you don't plan to stay there for thirty years you're better off not even bothering. All you would do is frustrate yourself.

Weart:

One final question. I am doing this for my own research interest but others may find it interesting. Would it be OK for us to deposit this in our library so other people can read it?

Pack:

I don't see why not.

Weart:

You have no objections?

Pack:

No I don't care. They can't do anything to me now.