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Reviews for Fundamentals of Biometeorology

Please submit your comment or review - thank you!


Post-publication reviews

Volumes 1 & 2: Jon Wieringa, Wageningen University (published in Meteorologische Zeitschrift)

Volume 1 & 2: John S. Reynolds AIA, Professor of Architecture, University of Oregon, Eugene

Forewords to Fundamentals of Biometeorology

Volume 1: William Reifsnyder, Professor of Forest Meteorology, Yale University

Volume 2: Peter H. Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden

Prepublication notices (included on the back covers)

Volume 1: William Reifsnyder, Professor of Forest Meteorology, Yale University

Volume 1: Michael McCorcle, Professor of Climatology and Meteorology, Iowa State University

Volume 1: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company

Volume 2: Tim Oke, Professor of Geography, University of British Columbia

Volume 2: Peter H. Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden

Volume 2: from a Colleague

* * * *

Post-publication reviews

JON WIERINGA, Wageningen University

(reprinted from Meteorologische Zeitschrift No. 11 (2002), pp. 372-5, with the publisher’s kind permission)

Discussing the published lecture notes of father and son LOWRY "Fundamentals of Biometeorology" is like saying about a girl: "Well, maybe she does not meet the beauty rules for Miss World, and she has several ideas with which I feel uncomfortable, but she is unique, and I love her." The two volumes are unique for different reasons. Volume 1 approaches the heavy physics of boundary-layer meteorology in a manner which can be understandable to students who have little knowledge of physics and no love of mathematics. Many such students and practitioners are found in geography, biology, geology and ecology. When meeting a meteorology problem they either do not recognize it as such, or they think they can solve it without any real background knowledge because they see weather every day, or they realize that meteorology is a complex subject and shy away from the problem. For them this book is a friendly and useful introduction to relevant meteorological matters, using patient explanation instead of a formula-based approach, and leading them far enough into the subject that they will be able to discuss it adequately with meteorological experts.

Then, Volume 2 is the best book now available for high-school or university undergraduate level which introduces at length those mechanisms of biology which are important for boundary-layer meteorologists and agrometeorologists. Behavior of plants and animals get a few chapters in books such as OKE (1987, academic), KEANE (1986, agricultural) and WIERINGA and LOMAS (2001, operational), but from LOWRY the biology subjects get "equal time" with meteorological matters. In this the present volumes are worthy descendants of LOWRY's "Weather and life" (1967), which at the time of its publication for physical meteorologists like me was the only really useful road to understanding relevant biological matters. Not just to handling them with a few sleazy methods, but really beginning to understand them a little.

Before you can reply to me that love is said to be blind, I will touch upon the major deficiencies of this two-volume didactical publication. Primarily, the first volume is not very up-to-date: several important insights on the atmospheric boundary layer developed after 1970 are sorely missed, and tables contain significant errors found in handbooks of the sixties, such as an open-water albedo of 0.20 or an orchard roughness length of 2 m. The second volume appears to be more actualized.

The American background of the book has some unpleasant consequences. Although the American Meteorological Society requires the use of Standard International units since 1974, and the relevant journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology made S.I. units mandatory in 1991, the LOWRY volumes generally use calories and outdated metric units, arguing that these are still used by their customers. It is almost scary to see the authors refer on p. 91 to "the less familiar Celsius scale".

Another parochial feature is the almost exclusive reference to U.S.-published books and journals. There is an unbelievable absence of references to European or Australasian English-language articles, e.g. none from the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society which has an outstanding record of biometeorological publications (MONTEITH, 2002). This means, for example, that the only references to Monteith or Tromp are to books which they published, and there is not any reference to Penman who did not write books. GEIGER's microclimatological classic is regularly referred to in its 1961 Harvard translation, but the excellent update of GEIGER by ARON and TODHUNTER (1995), published in Germany, is not mentioned. Since the LOWRY publication has a creditable number of references to U.S. journals, I deduce that the authors were probably victims of the narrow-minded policy of many U.S. university libraries not to subscribe to any journals printed outside the United States, even when published in English.

So there are several reasons why this publication is unreliable as a review of the state of the art in boundary-layer meteorology. However, the LOWRY publication is not a handbook, but didactical in its purpose, and teaching of basic insight will not suffer too much from these actuality deficiencies.

The authors structured each chapter as a central text section, followed by many notes and lengthy "boxes" with detailed information on various issues, resulting in a need to jump back and forth unusually much. The presentation is very informal, particularly the layout of graphs which mostly look like copies of a blackboard drawing. Finicky readers will consider this too inaccurate, but it is quite in line with the general style of writing, aiming at introducing basic ideas in the style of a classroom lecture by a good teacher. Consistent with this approach is the banishment of many formal derivations to "boxes" or to appendices.

Volume 1 starts with a short introduction on general properties of the atmosphere, then presents separate chapters on basic parameters: radiation (two chapters), temperature, moisture and wind. Many fundamental terms, which in most meteorological textbooks just are used, are carefully explained here: general physical concepts like feedback and heat transfer, mathematical matters like weighted averages, and unfamiliar parame-ters like soil moisture potential. For instance, in chapter 4 an extensive d iscussion is given on how to interpret a graph on frequency distributions of lapse rates. Most textbooks would just present the graph and give some conclusions drawn from it, leaving the explanation why this is so to be done by the teacher. The general approach of the lapse rate and stability concept is also typical: instead of deriving it from fundamental physical formulas, it is developed from mainly qualitative arguments, explaining observations.

Moreover, heat and temperature are from the beginning dealt with in terms of heat flow, introducing at the earliest possible stage the resistance approach which is so essential to dealing with the complex energy transfer chains near the surface. Students with traditional meteorological schooling will also be surprised to find transport in the soil discussed at the same time as transport in the air, both of them being handled in terms of fluxes and response times. Strong warnings are given against popular misconceptions, such as assuming that evaporation is proportional to the vapor pressure deficit in air – while actually the strength and direction of vapor flow is related to the vertical atmospheric vapor pressure gradient. Here again vapor flow in the soil is discussed at the same time.

The chapter on wind addresses only phenomena which biology students must deal with explicitly, namely flows at micro- and topo-scale in surface layers. These are explained by way of circulations at coasts and in mountains, with unusually explicit handling of advection. No mention is made of the Coriolis force or of geostrophic wind, but that is no handicap since they are not essential parameters at small scales. On the other hand, in the next chapter on turbulent transport, it is a rather illogical feature that stability is only discussed in terms of the profile-related Richardson number, while the flux-defined Obukhov length, used in nearly all modern surface-layer meteorology models, is not even mentioned. In other aspects that chapter gives a short but very accessible introduction to behavior of turbulence, to turbulent transfer properties and to various alternative ways to observe and model such transfer of e.g. pollution.

Having introduced the acting parameters in the atmosphere, the authors stage their interplay in the canopy layer and at the surface. Conscientiously, a long discussion is devoted to the Leaf Area Index, showing how difficult it is to define and to determine. Parameter profiles within the canopy and their interpretation in terms of sources and sinks or as resistances are presented at length, but unfortunately the behavior of the transition layer closely above the canopy top is not dealt with at all. In chapter 9, fluxes across the surface are dealt with in terms of energy balance, clearly showing the diversity of roles played by radiation, temperature, humidity and vegetation layer storage. Study of this chapter will teach any non-meteorologist the danger of casual simplification of atmospheric effects in their models.

The two volumes of this didactical magnum opus quite often refer to each other, and obviously they were conceived and drafted as a single whole. The dozen years of separation between their publication dates is due to the fact that the senior author died in 1998. The preface to Volume 2 mentions that Lowry junior, originally a biologist, completed the still necessary editing tasks in honor of his father’s memory.

In Volume 2 the first chapter, no. 10, deals with organic behavior of plants in relation to the environment of atmosphere and soil. Differences between well-exposed grassland and forest understory leaf layers, the role of crop density, stomatal behavior etcetera are carefully expounded. For example, a discussion is given of vegetation influences on optimally modeling evapotranspiration for varying soil types and conditions, from dull weather over deep roots in sandy soil to bright sun over shallow roots in clay soil. The physiology of plants in excessive heat or cold or drought is expounded, and one of the "box" appendices reviews experimental techniques to determine fluxes in vegetation. Quantitative discussions are dynamic and done practically, in terms of resistance.

In my opinion this chapter should be required reading for any boundary-layer meteorologist. It is not restricted to average behavior of average vegetation, but gives real insight into the wide range of possible respiration, transpiration and photosynthesis process combinations shown by plants adapted to various climates and surroundings, from tropical forest to desert and tundra.

The next two chapters present agricultural matters. First, modeling of growth of mass and phenological development through stages of the plant's life cycle are dealt with. Again basic notions are carefully defined, especially concepts which are generally considered self-evident in meaning but can be interpreted in significantly different ways: water use, evaporation, crop yield, crop quality. The "heat unit" or "degree-day" concept, assuming that the growth or development is a linear function of the average temperature excess above some threshold, is analyzed and is shown to fail around some plant-specific optimum temperature of about 20°C. This is followed by a cursory and qualitative chapter on the possibilities of changing the micro-environment of plants, such as canopy structure arrangement, soil management, irrigation, frost combatement and shelterbelts.

Animals are the next focus of attention, again beginning with a chapter on fundamental principles – primarily management of body temperature and available general energy control mechanisms, both body-structural and metabolic. Mobility and ways of using preferable locations are covered next. A "box" appendix gives a systematic outline of the ecosystem concept, the coexistence of populations in the context of their environment. For meteorologists who encountered "ecology" only as a vague denomination it is enlightening to find here a cool scientific appraisal of survivorship as weather-related function of e.g. food chains and population density.

Next come two chapters which apply the discussed concepts respectively to small and large animals, again based on their energy balance. Small animals, like insects, have relatively little body adjustment possibilities besides changing their metabolic rate, and their behavior is discussed in terms of preferred environmental conditions and their survival in inhospitable seasons. In a meteorologically useful way a comprehensive review is given on agricultural pests, using heat-unit modelling. Large animals, including man, have more adjustment possibilities: they can tune their energy balance also by varying blood flow and by evaporative cooling. The authors gathered a lot of material on energy balance control and summarize it in a "beer can" model, where radiative and convective heat exchange are quantified in relation to factors such as orientation and the presence of a coat, with corrections for metabolic rate and breath-cooling. This analysis provides valuable new insights, published here as part of a teaching book instead of in a peer-reviewed journal.

The above-discussed six chapters of Volume 2 cover matter which seldom is found in meteorology textbooks, certainly not at this length and in such an insight-inducing manner. This unusual publication will remain valuable for very many years to come.

The authors might well have stopped at this point, but added two more full chapters on matters related only to man: his comfort, clothing, housing and his city environment – which are dealt with in many other textbooks. Conscientiously the authors list all U.S.-published literature on comfort a nd clothing in an encyclopedic chapter, much too large for classroom use and mainly useful as a literature source. For example, over twenty existing comfort indices are tabulated and discussed, concluding that for the media hype on wind chill "the wet bulb temperature may be as efficient an index as any". Similar very lengthy coverage is given to matters like relations between weather and disease, or energy budgets of buildings.

The chapter on urban effects is didactically more valuable. It is a very critical review of existing methods to investigate urban climate, discussing the unreliability of obser-vations (too few stations, observing only temperature and precipitation at poor locations), the frequent lack of scientifically sound and purposeful parameter definitions, and the often too simplistic modelling. This is worked out in analyses of pollution, precipitation effects, industrial influence, heat islands and so on. It is unfortunate, that this trenchant and highly instructive analysis appears in a biometeorology book and therefore may fail to draw the deserved attention of researchers who deal with urban climate.

In the appendices to Volume 1 the discussion of actual greenhouses and of the greenhouse effect in global climate is quite instructive, expounding problems of admissible and inadmissible simplifications of these complex matters. Appendices to Volume 2 give many formal reviews and derivations of models for transfer of sensible and latent heat, of empirical functions for various used working parameters and concepts. The philosophy of observation and instrumentation is also discussed in appendices. A number of exercises and problems are given, some worked out.

Volume 2 is rounded off with reflections on present-day interdisciplinary studies, which are too often done by teams of non-interacting experts who are exclusively trained in a sub-specialty because "depth brings grants and tenure, while breadth brings only understanding". The basic philosophy in writing these two didactical volumes was to help the beginner in seeing the forest as well as the trees. Overall the authors have succeeded admirably in the purpose of introducing biologists to meteorology and vice versa. Though in particular the first volume is not quite state-of-the-art, it probably will succeed in rousing the biologist's attention to the point where he will be motivated to find out more. It would have been practical if the second volume would have listed some up-to-date follow-up handbooks of boundary-layer meteorology such as STULL (1995) and GEIGER et al. (1995).

For the meteorologist, Volume 2 is a uniquely wide introduction to the items of living nature which are at the bottom of the atmosphere, while Volume 1 may give him more understanding of many concepts which he is using already. Moreover, the "boxes" and appendices contain an immense amount of well-organized background information on relevant methodologies, historical development of the insights, etcetera. For libraries of universities and institutes it is therefore advisable to acquire twice this two-volume publication, one couple for the biologists and one couple for the meteorologists. Maybe the geographers should be interested as well.


GEIGER, R., R.H. ARON, P. TODHUNTER, 1995: The climate near the ground. – Vieweg, Braunschweig, 528 pp.

KEANE, T., 1986: Climate, weather and Irish agriculture. – AGMET, Dublin, 327 pp.

LOWRY, W.P., 1967: Weather and life. – Academic Press, New York, 305 pp.

MONTEITH, J.L., 2002: The impact of weather on life: as explored in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. – Weather 57, 167-180.

OKE, T.R., 1987: Boundary layer climates (2nd ed.). – Methuen, London, 435 pp.

STULL, R.B., 1995: Meteorology today for scientists and engineers. – West Publ. Co., St.Paul, Minn., U.S.A., 385 pp.

WIERINGA, J., J. LOMAS, 2001: Lecture notes for training agricultural meteorological personnel (2nd ed.). – World Meteorological Organization 551, Geneva, 196 pp.

* * * *

Architecture and the Fundamentals of Biometeorology

Prof. John S. Reynolds AIA

Department of Architecture, University of Oregon, Eugene

In the inevitable future where renewable energy sources are dominant, buildings will be much more closely related to climate than are today's glass boxes with flat roofs bristling with air conditioning equipment. These two volumes are significant guideposts along that hopeful and healthful path. I am grateful to have them near at hand.

Architects are generalists, expected to know a bit about a lot of things. Biometeorology can sound to us a more specialized topic than might apply to our work. But William and Porter Lowry show us many ways in which this field interacts with site and building design, and how a quantifiable approach (even when some quantities are necessarily somewhat fuzzy) can help a designer make decisions. Two examples are their approach to the question of greenbelts in urban areas (Volume 1) and courtyards within buildings (Volume 2). The arguments supporting and questioning these design elements' applicability are clearly presented, some equations are utilized to sharpen the issue, and the designer is then encouraged to draw his/her own conclusions relative to each potential application.

* * * *

Foreword to Volume 1

William Reifsnyder, Professor of Forest Meteorology, Yale University

It is a relatively straight-forward job to write a textbook in a mainstream field. One knows what the “standard” texts say; the problem is to improve the manner in which it is said. The intended audience is also a known quantity: majors in a particular field. So the author has a relatively easy time of it (if writing a textbook can ever be called easy).

Professor Lowry has never taken the easy way out. From the very beginning of his professional career as an atmospheric scientist, Lowry has undertaken the difficult task of quantifying the connections between meteorology and the biological environment. Indeed, his first publication (as a sole and principal author) dealt with evaporation from forest soils. This was an attempt to put on a sound theoretical and experimental basis one important aspect of the water balance of a forest. Subsequent to this, he produced a pioneering series of “Studies of Oregon’s Climate for the Forest Industry.” These introduced foresters to ways in which climatology could be used to aid forest management.

These studies led inevitably to the broader question of how the atmosphere and organisms interact. The first edition of Lowry’s “Weather and Life: an Introduction to Biometeorology” appeared in 1967. Other biometeorological treatises were either medically oriented texts of uncertain validity, or were written by meteorologists with little training in the biological sciences. In the latter, the meteorology may have been good, but the applications were sketchy and often superficial.

The decade of the 1970s saw greatly increased awareness of the human environment. Ian McHarg was exploring how to “Design with Nature” rather than how to insulate man from his surroundings. McHarg asked Lowry to develop courses that would introduce architecture and design students at the University of Pennsylvania to the concepts of biometeorology. Who knows how many buildings “work” bioclimatically as a direct result of these courses? The specific realization of these efforts was Lowry’s next book, “Atmospheric Ecology for Designers and Planners.”

Now Lowry, in collaboration with his son, has gone back to his first effort, “Weather and Life,” and has up-dated it and expanded it to two volumes. The first, the present book, lays the physical groundwork for an understanding of the interactions between organisms and their microclimatic environment (which are then covered in detail in Volume 2). It discusses the modes of geophysical energy exchange in the biosphere: radiation, conduction, convection and evaporation; and puts them together in various energy balances. Scales range from leaf to forest, from insect to elephant, from growth chamber to skyscraper. The beauty of the energy balance concept is that it encompasses the entire range of biosphere-atmosphere interactions. With these principles in mind, it is possible to make sense out of a whole range of environmental relationships. The pages of this volume provide a sound introduction to an exciting and extraordinarily useful field of endeavor. (Questa, New Mexico, 1989).

* * * *

Foreword to Volume 2

Peter H. Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden

We will never be able to understand how our planet functions until we bring together an adequate knowledge of both the physical factors involved, and the functioning of the intricate and marvelous biological systems that occur here.

Those biological systems are the products of more than 3.5 billion years of evolution, and more than 400 million years of life on the land, interwoven from the activities of more than 10 million kinds of living organisms. Life originated and has evolved on a planet with particular physical characteristics; and it has, during the same time, profoundly modified certain aspects of its own environment. Those systems have become the basis of both the unity and the diversity that is characteristic of Earth as a whole, with its many kinds of environment. For the security of our own future, we must learn to appreciate, to interpret, and to manage that incredible diversity into which we have evolved.

Professor Lowry and his son have collaborated to produce the two rich and fascinating volumes of Fundamentals of Biometeorology, which are both informative and inspirational, and which will amply reward detailed study by anyone interested in the functioning of life on Earth. They have produced a work which, with its informal style, is both accessible and scientifically deeply rooted: a work that informs, enriches, and inspires to further investigation.

On the one hand, Volume 1 would provide a practicing biologist with the meteorological information necessary to engage in productive interactions with a meteorologist; at the same time, Volume 2 would inform a meteorologist about the level of biological knowledge that a biologist would find satisfactory as a basis for detailed discussions.

In the sense in which all of life on Earth is an elaboration of the properties of the carbon atom, in profound interactions with other elemental atoms, these books provide a compendium that lucidly sets forth the basics and, at the same time, presents well-delineated signposts pointing to deeper knowledge and appreciation.

All real progress in science, as with all real progress in human understanding, depends on a breadth of knowledge that is rarely achieved today. Biologists must understand the physical sciences, and physical scientists must understand biology, or both will fail in their efforts to understand how the world functions.

The interactions between living systems and the physical parameters that shape them are profound and so intrinsic to the operation of those systems that, at times, it becomes difficult to decipher the interactions. Unfortunately, interdisciplinary studies have become more and more a property of those who have already achieved tenure, reputation, and other trappings of success. Because of today's unfortunate decline in truly interdisciplinary training, there are few who will not benefit from a careful study of these two well-crafted volumes.

One can only hope that the Lowrys' desire may indeed be realized: that physical scientists and life scientists will come together in increasing numbers, at increasing levels of depth, and in interdisciplinary investigations that will give us all an improved knowledge in how to manage our common planetary home.

In the spirit of Fundamentals of Biometeorology, all of us ought to strive to create situations in which young scientists will be inspired to think in an interdisciplinary fashion, to interact with their peers, and to create new ways of thinking that will help to guide us all into the future, more secure in our understanding of our Earth home. I celebrate the boldness and originality of the Lowrys in producing such a useful work, and I commend these books to a wide readership. (St Louis, Missouri, February 1996).

* * * *

Prepublication notices from the back cover of Volume 1

Professor Lowry, in collaboration with his son, has updated and expanded his classic 'Weather and Life', which first appeared in 1967. This first of two volumes provides a sound introduction to the physical processes underlying the interactions between organisms and their atmospheric environment. – William Reifsnyder, Professor of Forest Meteorology, Yale University.

'Fundamentals' uses a strong physical science approach. The basic processes of radiative transfer, heat transfer, atmospheric stability, and atmospheric turbulence are expertly handled both qualitatively and quantitatively. My students report that, compared with similar texts, 'Fundamentals' is more clearly developed, and the figures and tables more easily understood and pertinent to the topics. – Michael McCorcle, Professor of Climatology and Meteorology, Iowa State University.

The real strength of 'Fundamentals of Biometeorology' lies in its adherence to a process-oriented approach. In an informal, conversational style the authors stress process throughout and no significant topic has been neglected. – Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company.

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Prepublication notices from the back cover of Volume 2

The Biological Environment is a perfect capstone of Fundamentals of Biometeorology, the two volume re-birth of the late Professor Lowry's classic Weather & Life. The principles of the first volume are used to create a fascinating synthesis of the microclimatic environments of plants, animals (including humans) and cities. Written for students of both biology and meteorology in a supportive but rigorous way, its originality and freshness make it so much more than a textbook – peppered with insights, derivations and worked examples. – Tim Oke, Professor of Geography, University of British Columbia.

Professor Lowry and his son have collaborated to produce the two rich and fascinating volumes of Fundamentals of Biometeorology, which are both informative and inspirational, and which will amply reward detailed study by anyone interested in the functioning of life on Earth. – Peter H. Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden.

Working on a campus dedicated to applied environmental science, I see plenty of... students without grounding in the basics, ultimately (later as professionals) making decisions without even a rudimentary feel for the subject they are acting on... Fundamentals made me realize how important it is to get a 'feel' for a subject. – From a Colleague.



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