New Honorary Members of the AMS: Qingcun Zeng

Here’s the third of three posts from Xubin Zeng (Univ. of Arizona) and Peter Lamb (Univ. of Oklahoma), who congratulated Robert Dickinson, Brian Hoskins, and Qingcun Zeng for joining them in the ranks of AMS Fellows by asking a few questions by email. This is the interview with Dr. Zeng:
How did you decide to choose atmospheric science or a related field as your profession?
I was born in a peasant family, grew up in the countryside, and personally experienced the strong impact of climate and weather on the agriculture and human life. When I was a student in the Physics Department of Peking University in the 1950s, several meteorological disasters occurred in China, and there was an urgency to develop meteorological service and research. The university and professors suggested us, at least some of us, to study “atmospheric physics”. Thus I chose atmospheric sciences for the future profession. Meantime, the first success of numerical weather prediction was very exciting; therefore I decided to choose numerical weather prediction as my first subject for research.
Who influenced you most in your professional life?
I am very lucky having very kind parents, excellent teachers and supervisors, and many good friends, as they all strongly influence my life. I can’t express how grateful I am to them.
By precept and example, my parents instilled in me the values of fundamental morals and hard work. My teachers, especially Profs. Y.-P. Hsieh, T.-C. Yeh, and E. A. Kibel’, taught me both the research subjects and methodology. Professors Yeh and Hsieh were important members of the Chicago School, while Prof. Kibel’ was a founder of the Petersburg-Moscow School. Their ideas as well as Chinese philosophy converge in my mind, creating new ideas. Professor J. Smagorinsky showed me how to run a research center when I was a visiting senior scientist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). Taking this as an example, I established a center of numerical modeling in our institute (IAP/CAS).
Which accomplishments are you most proud of in your professional life?
From a developing country (China), I have been thinking more about how China can learn from and catch up with developed countries in atmospheric sciences. My overall contributions to atmospheric sciences are small. Two pieces are worth mentioning here.
Since 1960s, I have paid special attention to the fundamental physio-mathematical problems, such as the well-posedness of governing equations with proper initial and boundary conditions, the internal consistence of the models written in both the differential and numerical forms, as well as some general features and laws in the rotating fluid dynamics. Some results have been applied to the designs of numerical weather prediction and earth system models in China. These work has also attracted some mathematical scientists to this field.
I have also been gradually involved in the new field of the global change and sustainable development since mid-1980s. I proposed a theoretical framework, the “natural cybernetics”, to try to unify the prediction and regulation of regional atmosphere-environment as a problem of system engineering. This would combine massive observations and practical experiments with mathematical models and numerical modeling. I am looking forward to the future progress in this area by the young generations.
What are your major pieces of advice to young scientists in our field?
Carefully observe and deeply think.
What are your perspectives for future direction of our field?
We have seen the close confluence of atmospheric Sciences and other branches of Earth Sciences with the goals to deeply understand and properly utilize the Earth environmental systems. The weather and climate predictions remain an important subject in the future. In addition, the studies on problems related to planning human activities in order to properly utilize and correctly regulate the natural atmospheric-environmental systems have just started, and should be strengthened.