A Tribute to Benjamin (Ben) M. Herman

Monday, July 16, 2018

Dr. Benjamin M. Herman, Professor and Department Head Emeritus, Atmospheric Sciences c.2000

Dr. Benjamin (Ben) M. Herman, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Arizona, passed away in Tucson on June 8, 2018.

Early Education Ben earned both his B.S. and his M.S. in meteorology at N.Y.U. and served as a United States Air Force meteorological officer in Alaska. After his stint in the USAF, Ben enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona, and, in fact, the department awarded him its very first Ph.D. (meteorology) in 1963. He was one of five graduate students housed in a Quonset hut where the Science and Engineering Library now stands. He studied under the supervision of Dr. James E. McDonald, and the title of this thesis was “A Numerical Solution to the Equation of Radiative Transfer for Particles in the Mie Region.” Ben developed the first Mie scattering computer code that could be used for drops of liquid water, and Ben's code was used for many years in radar meteorology. His scattering code was also applied to a variety light scattering problems in planetary atmospheres.

While Ben was still a graduate student, the head of department, Louis Battan, a pioneer in radar meteorology, asked him to do some theoretical backscatter calculations to simulate scattering by hailstones. Ben’s calculations matched the measurements made independently by David Atlas and Frank Ludlam in England. Battan described this as “one of the big thrills of my scientific experience…”

Life in Academia Upon Ben’s graduation, the university immediately hired Ben as an assistant professor, a rare honor and a testament to his intellectual ability even at that early stage of his career. Ben spent the remainder of his professional career at the University of Arizona and was appointed as Department Head in 1995. He retired as a Professor Emeritus in 2005, after 45 years of service. At his 40-year long-service award ceremony he was quoted as saying, “I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the University. It’s a wonderful University. I obviously feel that way, as I am still here.”

Visionary in Mainframe Computing Among Ben’s proudest accomplishments was helping to persuade the University to invest in a mainframe computer, an IBM 650, the world’s first mass-produced computer, with 2000 bytes of memory. It occupied an entire floor in the Engineering Building and led to the creation of the University’s first computing center. At the time, Ben would run his radiative transfer code from midnight to 4 am every night in order to calculate the polarization of sunlight on Jupiter. The same calculations would take just a few seconds today on a laptop computer.

Defining A Life: Influential Publications Ben was widely known for his research in the fields of satellite remote sensing, inversion theory, and radiative transfer. He authored or co-authored over 80 publications in the peer-reviewed literature, many of which are still cited today. His paper entitled, “Aerosol Size Distributions Obtained by Inversion of Spectral Optical Depth Measurements,” has been cited over five hundred times, as have two of his papers on the use of Global Positioning System satellite measurements to determine atmospheric water vapor profiles. His last paper, entitled “Effect of Urban Growth on Aerosol Optical Depth, Tucson, Arizona, 35 Years Later,” was published in 2014.

SAGE and the Early Days of Remote Sensing Ben was a member of the science teams for two NASA Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) satellite missions first launched in 1979.  SAGE was one of the earliest satellites to view the rising and setting sun through the atmosphere, measuring stratospheric aerosols, ozone, and several other gases. Ben helped to pioneer this unique method of remote sensing. The ability of SAGE to monitor, not just stratospheric aerosols and ozone, but a wide range of atmospheric chemistry and polar stratospheric clouds helped scientists to understand the complex processes that resulted in stratospheric ozone damage due to Freon. Data collected by these instruments were critical to understanding the Antarctic ozone hole and played a role in formulating the 1987 Montreal Protocol to prevent the continued depletion of stratospheric ozone.

The COSMIC Project: Birth of Global Forecasting Ben spent the summer of 1995 at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) working with a distinguished team of scientists to study the retrieval of atmospheric parameters from the GPS/MET prototype instrument. This served as a proof-of-concept experiment for the subsequent COSMIC project to utilize radio occultation of signals from the original GPS system and eventually from a dedicated fleet of Global Navigation Satellites to obtain atmospheric soundings of temperature, moisture, and pressure in the stratosphere and troposphere. COSMIC has made a huge impact. Today, over 3000 researchers from 77 countries are registered users of COSMIC data. The atmospheric soundings have revolutionized global weather forecasting, especially in regions lacking traditional radiosondes and in cloudy regions that are often inaccessible by other satellite retrieval methods.

Lifetime Achievement and NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal At the Herman Symposium in 2006 many of Ben’s former colleagues and students, including John Reagan, Michael King, David Flittner, Robert Curran, Kurt Thome, and James Spinhirne, to name just a few, gathered to celebrate his scientific career.

Also in 2006, NASA and the Department of the Interior bestowed upon Ben and his collaborators on the TOMS team the William T. Pecora Award for “developing innovative techniques for providing unique atmospheric ozone, sulfur dioxide and aerosol data for more than twenty five years.” In 2010, Ben received the Distinguished Public Service Medal from NASA.  Ben was also a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

Ben Herman (in blue) with Xubin Zeng at the annual Betterton Welcome Party

Ben's Legacy: A Gifted Teacher and Mentor Ben was a gifted and beloved teacher. He taught courses on physical meteorology, dynamical meteorology, atmospheric radiation and remote sensing, weather forecasting, and introductory undergraduate courses on weather and climate. He received the Faculty of Science Career Teaching Award in 1990 having “taught over 1000 graduate and undergraduate students in over 40 classes.” He also chaired many doctoral committees and directed many masters theses.

Ben loved discussing the weather with students. Many will remember him leading informal forecast discussions in front of the paper maps that were hung on the walls of the PAS building before maps were routinely available on computer screens. Ben's long-time interest in and experience with Tucson weather meant that he would usually beat the computer model forecasts.

Ben was also a great mentor of junior faculty members, research scientists, and postdoctoral researchers in the Department. His passion for science, his physical insights, engaged conversation, love of the Department, and kindness to all people will be his legacy.

Ben's Retirement: More Leisurely Pursuits Ben had a life-long interest in sports, particularly football, basketball, and baseball. While stationed in Alaska with the USAF, Ben became the champion ping-pong player in the Pacific command. He also had a number of hobbies through the years. During the 1960’s he was into radio-controlled airplanes and wrote a monthly column in the R C Modeler Magazine. He enjoyed carving rifle stocks, he raised Cocker Spaniels, and he was a keen 10-pin bowler (recording several games with a score of 279). He was an avid gardener using “walls of water” to establish tomato seedlings early in the growing season; raising gloxinias, and subsequently irises. He eventually became President of the Tucson Area Iris Society, travelling all over the United States and worldwide to attend iris conventions and to work with commercial iris growers in breeding drought tolerant plants.

Some of Dr. Herman's most cited publications include:

Ware, R; Exner, M; Feng, D; Gorbunov, M; Hardy, K; Herman, B; Kuo, Y; Meehan, T; Melbourne, W; Rocken, C; Schreiner, W; Sokolovskiy, S; Solheim, F; Zou, X; Anthes, R; Businger, S; Trenberth, K (1996). GPS sounding of the atmosphere from low earth orbit: Preliminary results. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 77(1), 19-40. Total Times Cited: 656 

Rocken, C; Anthes, R; Exner, M; Hunt, D; Sokolovskiy, S; Ware, R; Gorbunov, M; Schreiner, W; Feng, D; Herman, B; Kuo, YH; Zou, X (1997). Analysis and validation of GPS/MET data in the neutral atmosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 102(D25), 29849-29866. Total Times Cited: 649

King, M. D., Byrne, D. M., Herman, B. M., & Reagan, J. A. (1978). Aerosol size distributions obtained by inversion of spectral optical depth measurements. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 35(11), 2153-2167. Total Times Cited: 549

Kaufman, YJ; Tanre, D; Gordon, HR; Nakajima, T; Lenoble, J; Frouin, R; Grassl, H; Herman, BM; King, MD; Teillet, PM (1997). Passive remote sensing of tropospheric aerosol and atmospheric correction for the aerosol effect. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 102(D14), 16815-16830.  Total Times Cited: 495 

Fernald, F.G., B.M. Herman, and J.A. Reagan, 1972: Determination of Aerosol Height Distributions by Lidar. J. Appl. Meteor., 11, 482-489. Total Times Cited: 452

Shaw, G.E., J.A. Reagan, and B.M. Herman, 1973: Investigations of atmospheric extinction using direct solar radiation measurements made with a multiple wavelength radiometer. J. Appl. Meteor., 12, 374-380. Total Times Cited: 332 

Russell, PB; Livington, JM; Dutton, EG; Pueschel, RF; Reagan, JA; Defoor, TE; Box, MA; Allen, D; Pilewskie, P; Herman, BM; Kinne, SA; Hofmann, DJ (1993). Pinatubo and Pre-Pinatubo optical-depth spectra -- Mauna-Loa measurements, comparisons, inferred particle-size distributions, radiative effects, and relationship to LIDAR data. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 98(D12), 22969-22985. Total Times Cited: 265 

Herman, B.M. and S.R. Browning, 1965: A numerical solution to the equation of radiative transfer. J. Atmos. Sci., 22, 559-566. Total Times Cited: 220