Amongst all British meteorologists who worked in India, the name of Sir Gilbert Thomas Walker ranks high by any standard.

Born on 14 June 1868, Gilbert Walker grew to be a brilliant mathematics scholar at Cambridge, a Senior Wrangler in 1889, and a Fellow of Trinity College in 1891. Walker worked in many fields, including the path of projectiles and boomerangs, but his main interest was in electromagnetism and one of his papers in this subject got him the coveted Adams Prize in 1899.

Walker, however, got chosen by the Government of India to serve as the third Director General of the India Meteorological Department and he assumed charge of this position on 1 January 1904. Soon thereafter he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and received the Sc. D. degree from Cambridge University. Walker had the longest tenure of 20 years as the Director General of IMD. In 1918, Walker was elected as President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and President of the Indian Science Congress. Walker had also been a member of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

In 1911, Walker had been appointed Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI) and he was knighted in 1924, the year of his retirement. Sir Gilbert, on return to England, worked as Professor of Meteorology at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. Here, he continued his research on varied subjects like convection in unstable fluids, formation of clouds, and flight of birds. He was the President of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1926-27. Sir Gilbert died at the age of 90, on 4 November 1958.

Gilbert Walker, the mathematician-turned-meteorologist, lived decades ahead of his times. The phenomenon which we now abbreviate as ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) and monitor with the help of satellites, was in fact discovered by Walker along with the North Atlantic Oscillation at a time when there were no satellites. Again in an era in which the telegraph was the fastest means of acquiring weather data, Walker could establish the fact that the Indian monsoon was not an isolated system but had strong tele-connections with the global climate. In an age in which there were no computational aids whatever, Walker was able to apply statistical techniques to the foreshadowing of Indian monsoon rainfall using antecedent parameters measured in different parts of the world. Eighty years after Walker left, his statistical approach continues to be used in India for long range forecasting of the Indian southwest monsoon rainfall, the difference being mainly in the choice of parameters.

Walker’s memory has been perpetuated by the global meteorological community by naming the east-west circulation over the eastern Pacific Ocean as the Walker Circulation. In 2006, the University of Reading established a research institute dedicated to the memory of Sir Gilbert Walker, and named it as the Walker Institute for Climate System Research. Those interested in knowing more about the Walker Institute may please visit its web site at www.walker-institute.ac.uk.

A collection of Gilbert Walker’s research papers on the Indian monsoon rainfall and its global linkages has been previously published by the Indian Meteorological Society, New Delhi. One of these classical memoirs has been made available online by the Royal Meteorological Society at http://www.rmets.org/publication/classics/cp2.php. Some of his other papers on world weather co-authored by Bliss are available online at http://www.rmets.org/publication/classics/walkerbliss.php.

A brief pen portrait of Gilbert Walker was published in the Royal Meteorological Society’s monthly magazine, Weather, Vol. 52, 1997. This can be seen on the internet at http://www.rmets.org/pdf/walkergt.pdf and his complete biography can be read at www.walker-institute.ac.uk/media/GILBERT_WALKER.pdf.

(This post has been written by me on the basis of published and unpublished material and information available on the internet. It could be in need of some corrections. – R. R. Kelkar)

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