Gary A. Glatzmaier

1996 Sidney Fernbach Award Recipient
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“For innovative computational numerical methods to perform the first realistic computer simulations of the Earth's geodynamo and its resultant time-dependent magnetic field”



Gary A. Glatzmaier
was born on January 4, 1949 in Albany, Minnesota.  He received a B.S. degree in Physics and Mathematics from Marquette University in 1971, served four years as an officer in the U.S. Navy teaching physics and engineering at the Naval Nuclear Power School, and received a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Colorado in 1980.  After three post doctoral positions, he became a staff scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is presently on sabbatical at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Glatzmaier’s research has focused on numerical simulations of convection in stars and planets.  He has developed three-dimensional global models of the interiors of the sun and Jupiter and of the Earth’s atmosphere, mantle, and core.  He has used these models to simulate the solar dynamo, the banded zonal winds of Jupiter, “Nuclear Winter” scenarios, the climatic effects of the Kuwaiti oil fire smoke, and convection in the Earth’s mantle.  He has also simulated a laboratory experiment of convection in a rotating hemispherical shell that has flown on two NASA Space Shuttle missions.

Glatzmaier has recently developed the first dynamically-consistent three-dimensional numerical simulation of the geodynamo, the mechanism in the Earth’s core that generates and maintains the geomagnetic field.  The simulation now spans more than 200,000 years, using an average time step of about ten days.  The simulated magnetic field, generated by convection in the fluid outer core, has an intensity, structure, and time dependence very similar to the Earth’s.  The simulation has also produced a magnetic dipole reversal that took a little more than a thousand years to complete, with properties similar to what is seen in the paleomagnetic reversal record.  During most of the simulation, however, the magnetic field has a strong dipolar structure like the Earth’s field today.  The zonal fluid flow and magnetic torques keep the model’s solid inner core rotating a couple degrees per year faster than the mantle, a prediction Glatzmaier and colleague, Paul Roberts, subsequently made for the Earth that has recently been confirmed by two independent seismic analyses.

Glatzmaier is an associate editor of the “Geophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics” journal, has served on review panels for NASA and NSF, and is on the executive committee for the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Los Alamos.  He has won the 1980 Donald E. Billings Award for his solar dynamo simulations, a 1986 Los Alamos Distinguished Performance Award for his Nuclear Winter simulations, and finalist in the 1996 Computerworld Smithsonian Awards for his geodynamo simulations.  He is a Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a 1996-1997 Distinguished Lecturer for the Associated Western Universities.