Interview with Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Böhme



Prof. Dr. Böhme

Wolfgang Böhme in Hawaiian mode !

Surrounded by gentle hills, the River Havel and a string of small lakes, Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg in Germany, which celebrated 1 000 years of existence in 1993, is called the "Versailles of the north".

Potsdam today has a population of some 140 000. As well as its magnificent Hohenzollern Palace, the Palace of Sans Souci and the New Palace, Schinkel's Charlottenshof, the Cecilien-hof Palace, numerous churches and Italianate villas, museums and galleries attract numerous visitors. The University was founded in July 1991 and is located on three campuses. Since the last century, Potsdam has been a centre for research in the natural sciences and houses several research institutes.Our interviewee, Wolfgang Böhme, lives in Potsdam. Born in Dresden in March 1926, he joined the Meteorological Service of Saxony as a meteorological observer in 1946 and was a referee for the meteorological yearbook at the Meteorological Main Observatory, Potsdam, from 1947 to 1948. He studied meteorology and geophysics under Profs Ertel and Philipps at Humboldt University, Berlin, from 1948 to 1953, becoming a research assistant under Prof. Ertel. The same year that he obtained his doctorate, 1958, he joined the Institute for Research on Large-scale Weather Dynamics as research scientist and remained until 1962.

The focal point of his activity was the development of objective forecasting methods. From 1962 until 1966, he was head of the Research and Development Department. Böhme obtained his Habilitation degree in 1970 with a thesis on the quasi-biennial cycle of the general circulations; he demonstrated that the quasi-biennial oscillation of the zonal component of the wind in the tropical stratosphere (discovered only a few years earlier) ultimately represented the most prominent expression of a global process. In other words, the biennial oscillation comprised not only the tropical stratosphere but also the extratropical stratosphere and indeed the entire troposphere.

Böhme's nomination as Director of the Meteorological Service in 1967 was received with mixed feelings by his colleagues but he proved that a good scientist could also be a good administrator. His scientific activities continued unbroken; during the period of his leadership, no less than 68 publications appeared under his name, covering fields such as short- and medium-term forecasting, climate research, general circulation of the atmosphere, space and environmental research. This output was achieved by good organizational skills and indefatigable diligence. Story has it that he used to go to work and back each day armed with two heavy bags. A wide circle of experts was associated with him in his activities.

Böhme was a member of Working Group 6 (cosmic meteorology) of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) (1966-1980) and later on (1974-1978), a member of the COSPAR Bureau. From 1979 to 1990, he was a member and, for most of this time, chairman, of the WMO/Commission for Atmospheric Sciences (CAS) Working Group on Questions of Climate Research. He was also chairman of a task force to prepare proposals concerning the structure of the World Climate Programme during the Second World Climate Conference (November 1990) and took part in the annual sessions of the Joint Scientific Committee of the WMO/ICSU World Climate Research Programme. He was an elected member of the praesidium of the Meteorological Society of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its vice-president from 1970 to 1980. He was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR in 1977, becoming an ordinary member in 1980. In 1986, he was awarded the Reinhardt-Suring Gold Medal.

Böhme has continued his scientific activities after retirement and is still producing valuable publications. This interview took place in Potsdam in April 1998.

H.T. — Please tell us something about your family.

W.B. — I was born in Dresden in Saxony on 11 March 1926. According to my parents and the weather archives, it was a typical early spring day with a strong westerly to north-westerly wind, rapidly changing clouds and showers, occasional sunny periods and a daytime temperature of 7°C. I have no recollection of my place of birth since we moved soon after.

I remember the severe winter of February 1929, the frozen Elbe river and crossing the ice holding my father's hand. I was happy that my father could devote so much time to me but I was not aware of my parents' sorrows: it was a time of economic crisis; my father, a toolmaker, and my mother, a saleswoman, were out of work and my brother Karl-Heinz was born at a time of hardship.

H.T. — What about your schooling?

W.B. — In 1932, I attended the elementary school in Dresden-Ldbtau, where we lived. I was considered a talented pupil who should be encouraged to continue his studies—a decision that required considerable sacrifice on the part of my parents. From 1936 to 1944, I attended the Annenschule in the centre of town. Except for very wet days, I used to walk the three kilometres and back every day. With the onset of World War II, I could not finish my studies and had to wait until 1946 in order to obtain the Abitur, the final examination qualifying me to enter university.

H.T. — When did your interest in meteorology begin?

W.B. — From my early schooldays, I was interested in weather processes and phenomena and used to visit the local library to read books dealing with weather events. Some weather information, including forecasts, were published in newspapers but without any maps. Daily weather maps produced by the regional weather office were posted at the optician's shop, where some simple meteorological instruments were also on sale. I was particularly interested in meteorological observations and even acquired a maximum-minimum thermometer which I set up at home. The excellent view we had from our flat to the west, north and east provided me with an excellent opportunity to watch the impressive clouds in Dresden's skies, especially at the time of southerly winds. There were nearly always clear zones over the Erzgebirge in contrast with persistent dark and threatening clouds in the north-east over the Lausitz plate. The combined effect of the foehn, the Erzgebirge and the slopes of the Elbe valley to the Lausitz plate produced marvellous scenery.

H.T. — You started your career as a meteorological observer. Please tell us about it.


group photo

Participants in the minth session of Regional Association VI (Europe) in Potsdam, September 1986

W.B. — Having passed my Abitur, I applied for the position of meteorological observer at the regional Saxonian Weather Office located at the Wahnsdorf Meteorological Observatory. After an interview, I was offered the job and started on 6 May 1946. After rather brief introductory remarks by Dr H. Wehner, I started the routine task of observing and transmitting the records to the meteorological centre in Potsdam. I did not find this assignment difficult except for those occasions when we had disagreements on the types of clouds, which were at times chaotic.

Of course, respecting the principle of seniority, I eventually had to agree with my mentor, taking comfort in the old saying that, if three meteorologists are asked to identify clouds, at least four answers will be forthcoming! To expand my training, I was later transferred to the meteorological station of Plauen im Vogtland and, later on, during the cold winter of 1946/1947, to the famous mountain station Fichtelberg, the highest point in Saxony.


H.T. — When and where did you start your university education? What subjects did you choose?

W.B. — University study in the Soviet Occupation zone was only possible at the universities of Leipzig and Berlin. At the same time, the responsibilities for running a centralized Meteorological Service had been given to the Meteorological Main Observatory in Potsdam by a decree of the Soviet Military Administration, fully supported by the director of the Hydrometeorological Service of the USSR, Academician E. K. Fedorov1. In this way, full collaboration and coordination of the meteorological observations and telecommunication system in the occupied zone were secured. Fortunately for me at that time, the Observatory was looking for someone to work on the meteorological yearbook with a view to checking the data of the meteorological stations prior to their publication. I accepted the job and the director of the Observatory, Prof. Dr. R. Suring, agreed that I could register at Humboldt University in Berlin in 1948 to study meteorology. My first two years were mainly devoted to the obligatory subjects of mathematics and physics, except for some introductory lectures in meteorology. I also continued to work at the Observatory after my daily university classes in order to earn my living.

H.T. — Who were your professors of meteorology and what can you tell us about them?

W.B. — I was fortunate to have outstanding scientists among my teachers. Prof. Dr Hans Ertel gave lectures on theoretical meteorology and atmospheric dynamics. Prof. Dr Horst Philipps was in charge of lectures on the general circulation of the atmosphere and Prof. Dr Leonard Foitzik covered atmospheric optics. Hans Ertel, being a pupil of Heinrich von Ficker, was the real master in a wide range of theoretical research ranging from meteorology to geophysics and geodesy, from hydrodynamics and physical hydrography to problems of cosmic physics. Among meteorologists, he is well known for his potential vorticity theorem, which includes the Bjerknes circulation theorem and the generalized Helmholtz vortex theorems. He emphasized the importance of boundary values for weather forecasting. He said that, in principle, an exact weather prediction for a limited area of the Earth's surface was not feasible, even if the initial conditions were exactly known. Ertel's fundamental statements date back to 1936-1948, long before these questions were cited in the literature in English. Hans Ertel the theoretician did not, however, overlook the requirements of synoptic meteorologists.

The lectures by Horst Philipps were of the same clarity and elegance as those of Ertel. He was also an excellent organizer and oversaw the transition of the Potsdam Meteorological Observatory within the occupied zone into the Meteorological Service of the GDR with effect froml January 1950. He was the Director of the Meteorological Service until his untimely death in 1962 at the age of 57. Philipps understood the interaction between science and society as a perpetual process of give-and-take. He held the firm view that scientific research and practice must be closely connected, especially in meteorology and meteorological services.

H.T. — What was the subject of your thesis for your diploma in meteorology?

W.B. — My attention was drawn by Prof. Ertel to an important problem which was the subject of much study in the middle of the century: the formation of the monsoon. The German clima-tologist Herrmann Flohn2 had already postulated that the seasonal variation of the monsoon was caused mainly by the seasonal movement of the planetary wind zones (including the equatorial zone of westerly winds). Although this hypothesis had its own merits, the consequences underestimated the importance of the thermal contrasts between land and ocean. In this contentious scientific atmosphere, I published a paper entitled "The thermally produced circulation processes in an atmosphere at rest and isothermal at original conditions". This paper had, of course, application to monsoon circulation and was used in 1953 as the thesis for my diploma in meteorology. I could demonstrate and confirm by a detailed comparison of the theoretical results and observations that the seasonal activity of heat sources and sinks played an essential role in this context.

H.T. — What did you do then?

W.B. — Having received my diploma, I could have applied for a job in the national Meteorological Service but Hans Ertel offered me a post as his assistant. My main assignment was to prepare my thesis for my Master's degree and give some lectures. My thesis was ready in 1958 and the title was "On the two-layer problem of the atmospheric eddy friction and the related deviations from the geostrophic wind". In my choice of theme, I was, of course, stimulated by the work of Ertel and Philipps, as well as the phenomenon called Nullschicht (level of zero vertical motion, especially in the upper troposphere near the tropopause with strong departure from the geostrophic wind).

H.T. — Tell us about the Meteorological Service of the GOR in those days.

W.B. — The Meteorological Service of the GDR was formed on 1 January 1950 out of the services of five countries in the Soviet Occupation Zone: Saxony, Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg. The head office was first housed in the Main Meteorological Observatory at the Telegraienberg in Potsdam. This observatory was founded in 1892 and scientists like A. Sprung, E. Suring and 0. Hoelper contributed to its development and subsequent expansion. The headquarters of the Service was moved later to a new building not far from the Observatory. Under the guidance of Prof. Horst Philipps, the Service grew rapidly to meet the requirements of various parts of society. Philipps found support from the Government in all directions: materially, financially and, in particular, in terms of personnel. At the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, the number of full-time employees amounted to some 1 100. There were 70 meteorological stations, half of them for climatological observations, four radiosonde stations, 165 complimentary climatological stations, 1 230 sites for daily precipitation measurements and 1 315 for phenological observations. As of the early 1960s, other stations were gradually added to measure suspended dust particles, radioactivity of air, precipitation and sulphur dioxide. The first weather radar became operational in 1965 and the first satellite picture receiving device in 1967. Great efforts were made in developing and operating the Automatic Meteorological Telecommunication Station (AFMS), beginning in the early 1960s. The Meteorological Service of the GDR was one of the first in the world to equip all its meteorological and climatological stations with AFMS— which are still in full operation. Considerable attention was given by Prof. Philipps to meteorological research. At the end of the 1950s, there were seven specialized research institutes and six regional meteorological offices, including the Maritime Weather Office in Rostock-Warnemünde.

H.T. — What sort of meteorological contacts did you have those days outside the GDR?

W.B. — Needless to say, in a field such as meteorology, international contacts are indispensable, as was already demonstrated at the Leipzig Conference of Meteorologists in 1872, when the International Meteorological Organization was founded. We established numerous contacts outside the GDR but I shall mention only a few of them here. In 1951, we participated in the first Conference of Directors of Meteorological Services of Socialist Countries in Prague. In 1955, the Meteorological Service of GDR organized the second such conference in Berlin. Many other contacts were more or less bilateral arrangements, e.g. the intercomparison of radiation instruments in Leningrad in 1952 and the international intercomparison of radiation instruments in Hamburg in 1956. In the early 1960s, GDR scientists attended a special course on large-scale weather research arranged by Prof. Baur in Bad Homburg. GDR's Meteorological Service participated in many international projects such as Antarctic expeditions, the International Geophysical Year (IGY), the International Year of Quiet Sun and the International Hydrological Decade. In spite of the Cold War, the telecommunication circuits Potsdam-Moscow and Potsdam-Offenbach were implemented in 1959 as part of the northern hemisphere telecommunication main trunk, in accordance with WMO plans.

H.T. — You were involved in the development of methods for medium- and long-range weather forecasting. Where did you conduct this work?

W.B.Dr Fritz Bernhardt was the chief of the Institute for Research on Large-Scale Weather Dynamics established by Horst Philipps in 1953. The Institute had two main tasks—one concerned dynamic meteorology, in particular, the general circulation of the atmosphere, including the preparation and presentation of the global distribution of mean monthly values of meteorological elements. This was part of the contribution of the GDR Meteorological Service to the IGY. The second part concerned the development of objective procedures covering both short-range weather forecasts and monthly predictions of general weather phenomena. The focal point was the medium-range forecast up to five or seven days. I started work at the Institute after obtaining my Master's degree. We were a group of young scientists who were not happy about the current subjective methods and wished to introduce new objective procedures on the basis of theoretical meteorology and the use of computers.

H.T. — What sort of computer facilities did you have at your disposal in those days?

W.B.At the beginning of 1958, we had none, except for some manual or electrically powered table calculators and machines for punch-tapes. The first computer, of medium efficiency, was developed and produced by the Carl Zeiss Entre-prise in Jena. As of 1961 we could, in principle, use this machine but there were too many demands by other customers who had priority. We could only use it at night or during the weekend. Two years later, we were able to use machines of a similar nature at other sites, such as the astronomical observatory in Babelsberg. Finally, in 1969, with strong support from Academician Fedorov, the authorities gave us the BESM-6. A new building for the computer was constructed and the selection and training of staff followed. BESM-6 was a relatively fast computer and we started routine operations in January 1971.

Mr Bohme with Mohr and Voss  

Bohme with Bojkov and Hodkin

Wolfgang Böhme in Geneva during Eighth World Meteorological Congress (1979) with (left-hand Photo) Tillman Mohr (Federal Republic of Germany) and Hinrich Voss (WMO) and (right-hand photo) Rumen Bojkov (WMO) and Sergei Hodkin (USSR)

H.T. — Let us discuss some of your main research activities.

W.B. — My research activities were mainly related to atmospheric dynamics and the general circulation with the main emphasis on forecasting. For instance, I worked with Benno Barg on the development of an objective method for the selection of analogical cases for Atlantic-European pressure distribution as a basis for medium- and short-range weather prediction. We aimed to concentrate the information about the situation into as few quantities as possible and used data points along three concentric ellipses, applying the Fourier analysis method. We showed that some typical weather situations could be simulated by using the first terms of Fourier series. Manfred Buttenberg and I tested the graphical prediction methods developed by R. FjortΦft3 and N. I. Bulaev with some modifications. Although the method proved useful, it was not much different from the barotropic methods used in other services. The forecast errors showed rather systematic behaviour in space and time. Other parts of my research pertained to investigating the importance of statistical methods in atmospheric dynamics. I demonstrated that a combination of deterministic (numerical) and stochastic procedures produced better results than any one single method for short-, medium- and even extended-range forecasting. I feel that the development of these ideas was fuelled by the tensions existing between the advocates of classic synoptic meteorology, those of objective and statistical procedures and meteorologists using numerical weather prediction. I started these research activities in the early 1960s and continued for many years. Needless to say, when meteorological data from satellites became available, my research extended into other fields, such as atmospheric turbulence and problems related to climatic variations.

H.T. — What about your doctor's degree?

W.B.I received my doctorate in 1970 with the thesis "On the quasi-biennial cycle of the general circulation and its origin". My investigations were linked to discoveries made in the second half of the 1950s and were associated with such names as J.C. Sadler, W. Viezee, R. J. Reed and R. A. Ebdon. The equatorial stratospheric zonal wind revealed a well-developed quasi-periodic cycle having on average a period of 26 months which moved downwards each time to the tropopause. My thesis aimed to clarify the repercussion of this cycle on various meteorological elements and atmospheric processes. I wanted to trace the origin of this phenomenon and asses its prognostic value. I had already stated that a coherent quasi-biennial cycle was also present in the extra-tropical troposphere as, for example, in the frequency of the meridional circulation types over Europe. A major result was the evidence of a distinct relation to a 26-month variation of the average heliographic latitude of sunspots. There have been some indications that, in the tropics, the solar transfer comes, in the first place, by electromagnetic radiation whereas, in the middle and higher latitudes, corpuscular radiation may be essential. Prof. H. E. Landsberg4, who was president of the WMO Commission for Climatology, was interested in these results. I met Landsberg in Geneva during the Sixth World Meteorological Congress (1971) and he invited me to work on this project in the USA. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this visit did not materialize.

H.T. — Tell us about the Meteorological Society of the GDR.

W.B. — The Meteorological Society of the GDR was founded in 1957 through the efforts of Profs Ertel and Philipps. They were convinced that a meteorological society could play an important role in furthering the exchange of views in a vast field such as meteorology and, in particular, its applications. The tasks of the Society included the organization of scientific meetings, the publication of the Zeitschrift fur Meteorologie, the establishment of links with relevant scientific societies outside the country and publications of meteorological investigation and research. The first scientific meeting of the Society was held in Berlin in October 1957. Major conferences were organized every third year and activities were guided by the board, consisting of the president, vice-president and five scientists, elected by the members of the Society. A member of the society from its inception, I was elected a member of the board in 1961.

H. T. — Do you recall your first contact with WMO?

W.B. — This was probably in 1963, when Dr Wilhelm Ortmeyer, Director of the GDR Meteorological Service, was invited to take part in the Fourth World Meteorological Congress as an "invited expert". I was head of the Research and Development Department and also Dr Ortmeyer's deputy. He decided to take me to Geneva to become acquainted with the work of the Organization. I studied carefully the various reports of the constituent bodies and established contact with members of the WMO Secretariat. Although I was interested in participating in WMO affairs, I was sometimes unhappy that WMO was not as involved in important questions concerning research as it was in problems related to observations and telecommunications. The fourth session of Regional Association VI (Europe) was scheduled for April 1965 in Paris. It was proposed that Drs H. W. Ortmeyer, Wolfgang Boer and I should take part but only the first two were allowed as invited experts; I had to go as a translator and my name is not mentioned in the list of participants. My first official participation as an invited expert dates back to the Fifth World Meteorological Congress in April 1967 when I was accompanied by R. Ziemann.

H.T. — What were your feelings when you were designated head of the Meteorological Service in 1967?

W.B. — I did not strive for such a position. In my professional life, I had mainly done what appeared to me as necessary from a scientific point of view. Essentially, this had been scientific tasks, but, of course, I also had to solve organizational or administrative questions. I feel that I was able to master virtually all that I tackled, not, as one says, in a flash, but by analysis and care and in cooperation with colleagues. When I was designated head of the Service, I did not have the sensation of an honour but rather the impression of firm trust in me by my co-workers and superiors. I felt that it was a challenge of a new dimension for me with which I could cope on the basis of my experience, albeit with considerable effort. Naturally, I feared that I would have less time for direct scientific work, but I took comfort in the hope that, in this position, I could better influence decisions favourable to development of the Meteorological Service.

H.T. — While you were the head of the GDR Meteorological Service, you managed to produce some 70 publications. Was it difficult to reconcile administrative duties with scientific activities?

W.B. — It was not difficult but I had to coordinate my scientific activities with my duties as a director. This implied greater contacts with other scientific institutions, meteorological groups and universities. This itself stimulated many new research ideas and activities, since these institutions had varying interests and requirements. I participated in scientific activities of the university groups concerned with the atmospheric sciences and maintained contact with the Meteorological Society. These duties were not easy to keep up and were at times overwhelming. I even had to take a leave of absence to complete my doctoral thesis. Fortunately, my deputies and colleagues made this task possible for me. Of course, I could not continue my scientific work at the same speed as before. Yet I took pleasure in doing both scientific work and administrative duties.

H.T. —The GDR became a Member of WMO in 1973, please tell us about it.

W.B. — The GDR became a Member of WMO in 1973 and the Director of the Service became Permanent Representative. That was thanks to the persistent efforts of certain people such as Academician Fedorov during the fifth and sixth (1971) sessions of Congress. None the less, we had tried to conform with WMO recommendations and resolutions and had several meetings with the Secretary-General, Dr D. A. Davies5, to discuss the issue. It was agreed that, even as a non-Member, we should receive without delay all the meteorological information available to WMO Members. In August 1973, my deputy, Dr E. Peters, and Mr S. Klemm participated in the sixth session of the Commission for Instruments and Methods of Observation (CIMO) in Helsinki, where you, Dr Taba, were representative of the Secretary-General of WMO. In September 1973, I took part with a small delegation in the celebration of the IMO/WMO Centenary and the related scientific conferences in Vienna and in Geneva. Thereafter, I participated in all sessions of RA VI and CAS. I was frequently chairman or co-chairman of working committees during sessions of these constituent bodies and at the Tenth World Meteorological Congress (1987).

H.T. — Tell us something more about these activities.

W.B. — We understood the importance of RA VI to the functioning of all Meteorological Services in Europe. Potsdam was included in the Main Regional Telecommunication circuit and in the Global Main Trunk circuit and the Potsdam Main Meteorological Observatory became a Regional Ozone Centre. We were active participants in many RA VI working groups and had a number of rapporteurs. I was active in the affairs of CAS, in particular, questions relating to research. From its fifth session in 1970 in Washington until its tenth session in 1990 in Offenbach, I took part in all CAS sessions. I also took part in the WMO/ IUGG Symposium on Meteorological Data Processing and some of our discussions heralded the forthcoming Global Atmospheric Research Programme. At the seventh session of CAS (Manila, 1978), Prof. Obasi and I were both candidates for the vice-presidency of CAS; I congratulated Prof. Obasi on his election.

H.T. — What about your activities related to the work of COSPAR and the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP)?

W.B. — Prof. Dr Ernst August Lauter, Director of the Institute for Ionospheric Research, introduced me to the COSPAR's Working Group 6, which dealt with the application of space research to meteorology. I was involved in the work of this group for more than 10 years. It later became COSPAR's Interdisciplinary Commission A. Morris Tepper of the USA was chairman. The applications of data obtained from satellites had acquired great importance. ICSU and WMO were invited to develop an expanded programme on research in the field of atmospheric sciences, which eventually culminated in the establishment of GARP and the First Global GARP Experiment. COSPAR's Working Group 6 prepared a number of scientific reports on the applications of space technology which had important impacts on the WMO World Weather Watch and various GARP experiments. As far as my own contributions are concerned, I should perhaps mention my proposals about the necessary extent of redundancy in observing systems, as well as my thoughts concerning the advantages and disadvantages of a three-dimensional balloon-satellite sounding system. As the successor of E. A. Lauter, I also became a member of the COSPAR Bureau from 1974 to 1978.

H.T. — You were involved in the First World Climate Conference (1979)?

W.B. — The main task of this Conference was preparation of the World Climate Programme (WCP). The establishment of such a programme had already been discussed at the CAS session in Manila in 1978. That session set up a Global Climate Committee (later called the Global Climate Group), which was to promote a CAS programme as input to the WCP. During the first week of the Conference, leading scientists gave lectures on the current status of knowledge of climatic processes and the interaction between climate and human activities. During the second week, as a member of Working Group II, I became involved in its work on the influence of human activities on climate. The Conference terminated with a declaration appealing to all nations of the world to foresee in time, and prevent, potential adverse man-made changes to climate. This was the first sign of hope that mankind might approach a solution to the problems brought up during the Conference.

H.T. — You also took part in the Second World Climate Conference (SWCC)?


group photo

Wolfgang Böhme participated in a session of the Joint Scientific Committee for the WMO/ICSU World Climate Research Programme in London, United Kingdom, in 1981

W.B. —  In 1990, the coordinator of SWCC, H. L. Ferguson, invited me to chair Task Group 10 "The World Climate Programme: overview and future". Twelve such task groups dealt with various matters related to water, energy, land use, urban planning, etc. The Group had to prepare recommendations concerning future priorities of the WCP and its components. The Conference Statement was considered by the Ministerial Conference at the end of the meeting. Task Group 10 submitted proposals related to the proposed Framework Convention on Climate Change. We emphasized the importance of expanding the existing World Climate Data Programme into one embracing the hydrosphere, biosphere and cryosphere.

We said that the socio-economic aspects should not be overlooked and recommended a free flow of data and information. Taking into consideration the requirements of developing nations, we proposed response strategies concerning prevention, mitigation adaptation and, above all, education and training. The records of the Eleventh World Meteorological Congress (1991) reflected many of the important recommendations of SWCC.

H.T. — Could you tell us about the ninth session of RA VI in Potsdam in 1986?

W.B.Potsdam was the headquarters of the GDR Meteorological Service, which facilitated preparations for the meeting. Furthermore, Potsdam, with its gardens and castles and lakes and forests and its historical background provided a charming setting. We held the meeting in the Town Hall, a historical building dating from 1755. Since the beginning of 1981, the Meteorological Service had been under the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister for Environmental Protection and Water Management, Dr H. Reichelt. A detailed discussion concerned air pollution problems. In the mid-1950s, scientists in the Meteorological Service were already convinced that the observations of the specific constituents of the atmosphere such as ozone, dust particles, sulphur dioxide, radioactivity, etc., were of great importance. This was before WMO established special programmes to observe and monitor these elements.

Two years later, we hosted the Technical Conference on Meteorological Instruments and Methods of Observation (TECO-88) in Leipzig from 16 to 20 May. Mr Stephan Klemm, former Director of the Instrument Office in Potsdam and well-known in CIMO circles, had a substantial role in the organization of that meeting.

H.T. — Tell us some of your memories of the period you were the Permanent Representative of GDR with WMO.

W.B. — Life is rich in strange events. I recall that, after a meeting of the permanent representatives of RA VI during the Tenth World Meteorological Congress, I inadvertently put on the overcoat of Dr H. Reiser, Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany; I did not notice, but he did. We decided to avoid a diplomatic entanglement by a benevolent exchange of overcoats! Some participants attributed this event to my being an absent-minded professor. More serious at the beginning was my lack of adequate knowledge of the English language and my difficulty in expressing my ideas in English. By the time I had formulated my thoughts and was ready to intervene, the Chairman had already passed on to the next item! I gradually improved, however.

H.T. — Tell us briefly about your membership of the Academy of Sciences.

W.B. — I was first a "corresponding Member", which precedes full membership. Both categories had equal duties; we had to participate in the scientific life of the academy such as sessions of the plenary and classes. I was the chairman of its class on geo- and cosmic sciences between 1981 and 1992. In the 1980s, we had 150 ordinary members and some 80 corresponding members. We also had some foreign members—as many as 145 in the 1980s. The academy was founded by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, almost 400 years ago, as the Prussian Academy of Sciences.


Bohme and Taba

Prof. Böhme at his home in Potsdam with Dr Taba

H.T. — What are you doing nowadays?

W.B.Scientific work still: only a few days ago, I presented a paper entitled "Atmospheric circulation and chaos—diagnostic results and consequences" to a meeting of the Leibniz Society. Other interests include concerts, the theatre, travelling, hiking and swimming. These pursuits are a source of relaxation and charge my batteries.

H.T. — Thank you for accepting this interview and giving me the opportunity of seeing you and my former Secretariat colleague Stephan Klemm once again. I shall cherish the memories of these last few days and the excellent hospitality provided by you and Mr and Mrs Klemm.              


  • 1 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 30 (4) [back]
  • 2 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 32 (3) [back]
  • 3 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 37 (1) [back]
  • 4 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 32 (2) [back]
  • 5 Secretary-General of WMO, 1956-1979; Interviewed WMO Bulletin 40 (1) [back]


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