Prof. Mariano A. Estoque
Most of PAGASA’s meteorologists have been hand-picked and trained by the two living legends, Kintanar, and our interviewee, Estoque. Many of them were present at the award ceremony to extend congratulations as well as to acknowledge the great influence of the celebrated scientist in their profession as meteorologists.
During the formal award of the IMO Prize, the Secretary-General of WMO, Prof. G.O.P. Obasi, and the President of WMO, Dr J.W. Zillman, extolled the virtue of internationally respected Filipino meteorologists. The “man of the hour” prized the compliments paid to him above the award itself. To be praised by the two highest officials of WMO was a considerable honour indeed. The Secretary-General said that the career of Prof. Estoque had been marked by almost half a century of commitment and selfless devotion to the advancement of atmospheric sciences through his dedicated search for the better understanding of atmospheric processes. He first met Estoque in 1958, when the latter was an invited lecturer at the Stansted Seminars, co-sponsored by the Atmospheric Environment Service of Canada and McGill University.
Estoque’s pioneering work in the development of numerical models of the atmospheric boundary layer and his significant studies in tropical meteorology, including the numerical simulations of the effects of cloud seeding on hurricanes, contributed in no small measure to our ability to predict severe weather phenomena such as hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones, which are a great menace to human well-being and national development. He also excelled himself in several other fields, including the theoretical and observational studies of sea breezes. He made outstanding contributions to international meteorology and to several WMO programme areas, including those related to research, and has been actively involved in major field experiments such as the Barbados Oceanographic Meteorological Experiment (BOMEX), the International Field Year of the Great Lakes, the Global Atmospheric Research Programme Atlantic Tropical Experiment (GATE) and the Monsoon Experiment. Another landmark in Estoque’s outstanding scientific career was his work as an educator. He devoted more than 30 years to the development of human resources and the building up of capabilities in meteorology and related geophysical sciences. Students from around the world have attended the Universities of Hawaii, Miami and the Philippines to study, under his supervision—many under the sponsorship of WMO—for advanced degrees and special training. His publications have appeared extensively in respected scientific journals.
As part of his outstanding contributions to the development of the science of meteorology and in recognition of his qualities and competence, Mariano Estoque has held several key positions including: chairmanship of the Committee on Hurricane and Tropical Meteorology, membership of the American Meteorological Society (1970-1974); Member of the Board of Meteorological Education, American Meteorological Society (1970-1974); Member of the Educational Board of Boundary Layer Meteorology (1970 to present); and Fellow of the Clean Energy Research Institute, University of Miami (1983 to present). In 1976, he was awarded the Government’s Outstanding Overseas Filipino Award in Science. Having spent almost all his professional life in the USA—some 40 years—Estoque decided to return to his home country in 1985. This was a radical change from all points of view and readers will learn more about it in this interview. Today, Estoque is working in the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography at the University of the Philippines. He loves teaching and devotes almost all his time to his students and to research; during the last 10 years, he has supervised more Ph.D. graduates than ever before.
He is a warm, friendly person and extremely popular with his students. During our interview, he told me that, although he had only just met me, he had the feeling he had known me all his life. As we said goodbye, I reflected how sad it is to part from people you like.
I wish to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr Amadore, and his staff for their assistance. I was also extremely happy to see Dr Kintanar and his family once again and wish to thank them for their hospitality. This interview took place in Manila in February 1999.
H.T. — Tell us about your parents, your primary and secondary schooling and the environment in which you grew up.
M.A.E. — I was born on 31 December 1921 in a small fishing town about 200 km north of Manila. My parents were both grade-school teachers in a small, remote village. I went to the local elementary school and graduated in 1934. Subsequently, I went to the provincial high school in San Fernando, La Union. It was the only high school in our province, located about 35 km north of our town. There were no school dormitories at that time, so I rented a small room with some of my classmates. During the entire four years of high school, I cooked my own meals and did my own laundry. Surprisingly, I survived!
After graduating from high school in 1938, my parents, like all other parents, wanted me to go to university to study for a profession—such as doctor or engineer. They felt that a university education was the only way out of poverty. They were too poor, however, to raise the money to pay for a university education. Fortunately, I passed a nationwide competition for a scholarship in the College of Engineering at the University of the Philippines, which I entered in June 1939. I had expected to graduate in four years but my schooling was interrupted in December 1941, in my third year, when the theatre of World War II extended to the Pacific. Japan invaded the Philippines and, within a short time, Manila was occupied. The universities were closed and I went to live in a remote mountain village with my grandparents. Our village was frequently raided and, after one close escape, I decided to go to Manila.
H.T. — How did you start your meteorological career?
M.A.E. — Upon arrival in Manila, I learned that the Jesuits, who had run the Philippine Weather Bureau for almost a century, had been replaced with Filipinos, none of whom had any formal training in meteorology. Incidentally, until then, there had never been any Filipino meteorologists. The highest position held by a Filipino in the Weather Bureau under the Jesuits was that of weather observer. Luckily, the Filipino who was appointed Chief of the Weather Bureau, Prof. Maximo Lachica, was one of my engineering professors. When I applied for a position in the Bureau, he appointed me as a weather observer and I was taught by a Japanese army officer, Captain Tominaga. Thus, in 1942, I began my meteorological career, which culminated in my being awarded the IMO Prize 56 years later.
H.T. — You went on to study meteorology in the USA. How did that come about?
M.A.E. — In 1945, when World War II ended, I continued my schooling at the University of the Philippines and finally obtained an undergraduate degree in engineering in May 1947. At about the same time, the USA and the Philippine Governments established an ambitious programme to train Filipino meteorologists at American universities. They would be the first Filipinos to have any formal schooling in meteorology; afterwards, they would work for the Philippine Weather Bureau. The training was planned to consist of basic courses in meteorology for one year, similar to those usually given to US Air Force personnel. Unfortunately, the original plan did not include an opportunity for the trainees to study for a formal degree in meteorology.
Thirty young Filipinos were selected as trainees through a nationwide competitive examination and I was again lucky, for I was one of those selected. We were divided into three groups. One group was sent to the University of California at Los Angeles, the second to the University of Chicago, and the third to New York University. My group was sent to the Department of Meteorology, New York University; thus, my formal training as a meteorologist began in June 1947. The most senior member of the faculty was Dr Bernard Haurwitz, a pioneer in the field of dynamic meteorology, who had emigrated to America from Germany. Another faculty member was Heinz Lettau, also from Germany. Many of the younger faculty members eventually became famous, such as Hans Panofsky (atmospheric turbulence), Alfred Blackadar (atmospheric boundary layer), and Williard Pierson (ocean waves). The young instructor, Joseph Smagorinsky2, who taught us statistics, became famous for his work on modelling the general circulation of the atmosphere. He received the 19th IMO Prize in 1974.
H. T. — Where did you do your graduate schooling?
M.A.E. — My fellow students finished the training programme and returned to the Philippines to work in the Weather Bureau. I was given the opportunity to continue my studies, because I had obtained the highest grades. After two years, in May 1949, I obtained my master’s degree. After graduation, I was preparing to return to the Philippines, when a girlfriend suggested I should stay and study for a doctorate. I went to see Prof. James Miller of the Department of Meteorology and told him of my wish to study for a Ph.D. and also that I needed financial aid, since my original US Government scholarship had expired. He referred me to Dr Haurwitz, who had a US Air Force project on atmospheric wave motions, and I became his research assistant; he also became my adviser for my thesis. Dr Haurwitz was reserved and not very communicative. To make matters worse, I was a shy young man from a developing country and afraid of university professors. During the entire period (about one year) that I worked on my thesis, I consulted him no more than twice. In contrast, here at the University of the Philippines, I talk with my students about their problems at least once a week. At any rate, I finished my thesis (a theoretical study of planetary waves) in what was probably record time. Even now, I continue to have a guilty conscience that Dr Haurwitz was somewhat biased in approving my thesis and showed extra kindness to me. In May 1950, I obtained my doctorate—the first Ph.D. in meteorology ever obtained by a Filipino.
H. T. — You went back to the Philippines but you did not stay long: why?
M.A.E. — I returned to the Philippines a few weeks later, with great hopes of being given a decently paid position in the Weather Bureau. My parents were happy, thinking that, finally, we could improve our financial situation. In spite of my Ph.D., however, the best the Weather Bureau could give me was a high-sounding position (chief of research) with a starvation salary. I began thinking about going back to the USA. In the summer of 1952, I was finally given a research assistantship by Dr George Benton at Johns Hopkins University in a research project on the general circulation of the atmosphere—an important programme, with financial support from the US Government. In fact, the programme supported many graduate research assistants at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including one G.O.P. Obasi! I worked on the analysis of observations over the North American continent, determining the budgets of water vapour and angular momentum in relation to the general circulation. Dr Benton impressed me as a kind person with great knowledge of many aspects of the Earth sciences.
H.T. — When did you go to Chicago University?
In the process of applying his method, it occurred to me that the same principle could also be used for a similar conservative property for baroclinic flow—the potential vorticity. I eventually developed a graphical method which could predict baroclinic flow at 1 000 and 500 hPa, as well as the vertical velocity field. Subsequent extensions of the method also predicted the precipitation, using an entirely graphical technique. With a fellow research assistant, I used the method to make daily operational forecasts for North America. We were able to finish the graphical forecasts within one hour of receiving the teletyped radiosonde observations. These forecasts were then used in a daily weather-map discussion, which was attended by US Weather Bureau meteorologists and faculty members of the Department of Meteorology. Dr Petterssen usually led these map discussions. About one year later, Dr Fjørtoft visited our department and was quite interested in my extension of his graphical method.
H. T. — You must have met many other eminent meteorologists while at the University of Chicago?
M.A.E. — Many famous scientists came to Chicago for short- and long-term visits, including Rossby, Suomi4, Palmén5, Arnt Eliassen6, Bolin7 and Prof. Syono of the University of Tokyo. I vividly remember the lecture which Prof. Syono gave: since his English was not very good, most of the material he presented consisted of equations! I also recall Palmén’s visits, because we shared an office. He was a nice, modest person but smoked in the office almost constantly. This bothered me, because I am allergic to tobacco smoke—but I never allowed my discomfort to show. Many visitors were attracted by the outstanding faculty members and researchers in the Department of Meteorology. Some I could mention were Battan, Braham, Byers, Fujita, Fultz, Newton, Platzman, Riehl8 and Saucier. These scientists, together with the visitors, made for an exciting place. It was truly the golden age of meteorology at the University of Chicago and I was lucky to have been there.
Work under Dr Petterssen was a valuable experience. For example, I increased my knowledge of middle-latitude synoptic disturbances, but the most important thing I learned was how to write good scientific papers. It was during my stay in Chicago that he wrote his books on weather analysis and forecasting. Assisting him in the preparation of these two volumes certainly improved my writing ability.
H.T. — When and why did you leave Chicago?
M.A.E. — Although Chicago was such a great place, I had to leave to get a stable position somewhere else, for my job there was only temporary and depended on the continuation of Dr Petterssen’s research contract from the US Government. During a meeting of the American Meteorological Society, I met a former classmate, Dr Morton Barad, from New York University. He was leader of a micrometeorology group at the US Air Force Cambridge Research Center. I told him that I planned to leave my job in Chicago and that I was looking for a more or less permanent position. He offered me a job with his group but, before the Air Force could hire me, I had to have an immigration visa and security clearance. However, in order to receive an immigration visa, I had to be outside the USA! Dr Barad suggested that I go to Canada and work under Prof. Ken Hare9, who had a research contract at McGill University, funded by the US Force. I was extremely grateful to Dr Barad for making all the arrangements for me to stay in Canada. I worked with Prof. Hare for one year on forecasting circulations over the Arctic.
H. T. — You eventually returned to the USA. What kind of work did you do?
M.A.E. — After a year in Canada, the immigration formalities were completed. I was, finally, able to enter the USA and start work with Dr Barad’s micrometeorology group in the summer of 1957. Computers were being used only in the numerical prediction of synoptic-scale weather disturbances. It occurred to me that they could also be used to study micrometeorological processes occurring in the atmospheric boundary layer. I embarked, therefore, on the study of diurnal variations of the boundary layer generated by corresponding diurnal variations of ground surface temperatures and formulated a theoretical model of the planetary boundary layer. Using computers, I integrated the model equations numerically. The results provided an explanation of the observed diurnal wind variations, especially the so-called nocturnal low-level jet. My next study was a logical extension of the boundary layer study—an application of numerical modelling to sea breeze. The model equations were formulated and then integrated in order to analyse the effects of the large-scale prevailing flow on the characteristics of the sea-breeze circulation. These two studies of the atmospheric boundary layer and the sea breeze were pioneering attempts in applying numerical modelling to subsynoptic circulations. I was happy working under Dr Barad but wanted to move for two reasons. First, I am a tropical person and the winters in Massachusetts were just too cold for me. Second, I have always wanted to be a teacher, something which I could not do with the US Air Force.
H.T. — Considering your good fortune so far, I am sure you were able again to move to an appropriate location.
M.A.E. — The opportunity to move to a new location came when Prof. Colin Ramge visited our office in connection with his research contracts. He was head of the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography of the University of Hawaii and I asked him about the possibility of working there; he replied that he would be glad to appoint me as a full professor. In August 1960, I left the US Air Force Cambridge Research Center and went to Hawaii.
When I arrived, the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography was still in its infancy, with only a graduate academic programme. It had previously been a purely research group, with emphasis on tropical meteorology and almost all the faculty members were tropical meteorologists. My own expertise was in dynamical and synoptic meteorology of temperate latitude disturbances and I therefore complemented the group. My job was primarily to teach courses in dynamics. In addition, I continued my research in micro- and mesoscale meteorology, gradually shifting towards the dynamics of tropical cyclones. In this connection, I made an interesting study of the vertical circulations of tropical cyclones by extending Arnt Eliassen’s ideas about analogous vertical circulations in mid-latitude fronts. During my stay in Hawaii, I participated in the USA/Japan Scientific Cooperative Programme in Meteorology and had a cooperative programme in micrometeorology with Dr G. Yamamoto and his colleagues at Tohoku University.
H. T. — Was Hawaii your dream place or were you still looking for something else?
M.A.E. — On a flight to Tokyo, I found myself sitting next to Dr Robert Simpson, Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. He recounted the rapidly developing research programmes in tropical meteorology in Miami, funded by the US Government, with the main emphasis on tropical cyclone research. He also outlined the plan to establish a Department of Meteorology in the University of Miami under Werner Baum10, which would be housed in the same building as the National Hurricane Center. He suggested that I move to Miami. I had already thought of leaving Hawaii as it was far away from the meteorological research and teaching institutions on the mainland and new developments in meteorological knowledge were consequently slow in reaching us. Also, the cost of living was high compared to the mainland, and good housing was not available near the University; I had a drive of about 16 km between home and work. So, I decided to move again. I left Hawaii for Miami in the summer of 1966. It was sad, because we had made a lot of friends there and we liked the social environment—the great multiracial mix of Orientals, Caucasians and native Polynesians. Moreover, the climate was excellent and the islands, with their beaches, mountains, flowers, etc., were beautiful. But the great expectations of the professional opportunities in Miami outweighed the attractions of Hawaii—expectations, which, I am glad to say, were subsequently realized.
H.T. — What was it like to study meteorology in Miami in those days?
M.A.E. — During the late 1960s and the whole of the 1970s, Miami had the greatest concentration of tropical meteorologists in the entire world. They worked in three National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offices (National Hurricane Center, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories and the Environmental Research Laboratory) and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of Miami. In addition, Miami was the springboard for three international field observational programmes in tropical meteorology: the Atlantic Tropical Experiment, BOMEX and GATE. These programmes attracted a steady stream of visitors. There were internationally renowned meteorologists (Koteswaram11, Alaka, La Seur, Jordan, Riehl, Hantel, Sanders, Van de Boogaard, Yanai, Charney and Joanne Simpson12); there were young graduates who came to do postdoctorate studies; and there were students studying for their degrees at the University of Miami. Many of these young meteorologists went on to become outstanding meteorologists, such as Henry Diaz of NOAA, Robert Pielke and William Gray of Colorado State University and R. Anthes of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In addition to these scientists, the University of Miami had outstanding faculty members in the atmospheric sciences, such as Eric Kraus, Claes Rooth, Rainer Bleck, Homer Hiser and Roger Lhermitte.
H.T. — Tell us about some of your research work in Miami.
An interesting project which I did with one of my students (Chandrakant Bhumralkar, now with NOAA) was to test the hypothesis that rainfall could be enhanced by covering a limited area in the tropics with asphalt. The idea was that the asphalt-covered ground would heat up faster than the surrounding area during the daytime. Convection and rainfall would, therefore, develop over it. Obviously, it would be impractical to coat a substantial portion of the Earth’s surface with asphalt, not only because of the expense but also for environmental considerations. In order to duplicate the conditions, we used the analogous temperature contrast between an island and the surrounding sea. We selected Grand Bahama Island as the area of a combined observational study (with Van de Boogaard from the National Center for Atmospheric Research) and theoretical study. The latter was done by numerical modelling of the observations. The results of the study indicated that an asphalt coating at least 1 km wide could induce a significant amount of rainfall. In connection with my participation in the International Field Year of the Great Lakes, a somewhat different study was carried out on mesoscale circulations induced by Lake Ontario. Together with my student, Jim Gross, I made a combined observational and theoretical study of the lake-breeze and lake-effect storms. In short, my stay at the University of Miami was the most productive period of my professional life, in terms of research accomplished.
H.T. – You stayed in Miami for almost 20 years. Were you never homesick?
M.A.E. — I was not really homesick but there were compelling reasons for me to return to the Philippines. Sometime in the early 1980s, I began thinking about what I should do for the rest of my professional life. I had always wanted to return to my native country one day so that I could contribute in some way to the development of meteorology there. I was just waiting for the appropriate time to make the move. I had already worked at the University of Miami for almost 20 years. Since the University is relatively poor, there is an unwritten rule that a faculty member has to support a large percentage of his salary by bringing in money from research contracts, usually from the National Science Foundation and other federal government agencies. I had been able to do that since I joined the university but, as the years passed, research contracts became increasingly more difficult to come by. There were two reasons for this. First, there were many more applicants for research contracts. Second, there was no corresponding increase in the available funds. Because of the fierce competition for money, “politics” entered into the review of proposals and the awarding of contracts. It may be mentioned that the reviewers are usually the experts on the topic of the proposal. Unfortunately, they and their friends were also competing against the proposer for the same limited amount of available research funds. Therefore, their reviews were generally biased against proposals which had been submitted by proposers (competitors) outside their circle of friends. I do not know whether this is still current practice. In order to prevent this bias, I believe that experts from other, e.g. European, countries should review the proposals. The pressure from the University to support myself from research money that was difficult to obtain finally convinced me to leave. I felt it was time to go back and do something for my own country—to contribute to the education of young Filipino meteorologists.
H.T. — Tell us about your return home.
M.A.E. — I returned to the Philippines in 1985, having spent virtually all my professional life in the USA, a total of almost 40 years. The move was a radical change in my way of life—from life in a fairly rich suburb in Miami, with all the conveniences of modern living, to the relatively primitive conditions of a developing country. There was also an abrupt change in working conditions. The most serious deficiency in the Philippines is the lack of adequate library facilities, which are so important in graduate education. I was appointed visiting professor in the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography in the University of the Philippines, the foremost national educational institution.
H.T. – What are you doing nowadays?
M.A.E. — My primary responsibility is teaching and all my time is for my students. In sharp contrast, at the University of Miami, most of my time seemed to have been spent writing research proposals in order to get money to support myself. Consequently, there was not enough time for the students. During slightly more than 10 years of teaching at the University of the Philippines, I have supervised many more Ph.D. graduates than during my entire period of teaching in the USA. Many are foreign students from Asia and Africa and several are now directors of their Meteorological Services or are about to become so. In addition, I do some research in connection with my students’ theses—particularly on the numerical modelling of tropical and mesoscale disturbances. Some of the results are worth publishing in scientific journals but we cannot afford to pay the high publication charges.
H.T. — The 42nd IMO Prize was conferred upon you in 1997. What were your feelings?
M.A.E. — I felt greatly honoured. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it possible. I consider the years with my students at the University of the Philippines to be the happiest in my life. I also believe that my work here was an important factor in being selected for the Prize.
H.T. — What are you plans, now?
M.A.E. — Many of my friends who attended the award ceremony in February 1998 advised me that I should retire now, having attained the peak of my career at the ripe old age of 77. They suggested that I should take it easy and enjoy the rest of my life, doing the things which retired people normally do: travel, read good books, write my autobiography, sit on a rocking chair on the front porch and watch people go by, etc. That is something I just cannot do. My future plans are to continue teaching as long as I am able (mentally and physically) to do so. I have accumulated so much experience and knowledge in teaching, as well as in research, that it would be a terrible waste of resources if I stopped. Moreover, I cannot retire, because I am in the process of organizing a national centre for rainfall research at the University of the Philippines. The creation of such a centre has been my dream for a long time and I would like it to become an internationally famous institution of which the Philippines can be proud.
H.T. — Professor Estoque, you and I are almost the same age; sitting on a rocking chair might not be a bad idea for both of us. Let us form a rock duo. We may have some success. Who knows? It was a pleasure talking to you.