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Insight into marine science
Observatory history

Dr A.T. Doodson, CBE, DSc, FRS, Hon FRSE
Arthur Thomas Doodson was born in 1890 at Rochdale, Lancashire. He studied mathematics and chemistry at Liverpool University, graduating in 1912.



Arthur Thomas Doodson.

At first he worked at Ferranti's engineering works and then with Manchester Corporation, but maintained his links with the University on a part-time basis. It was here that he carried out extensive numerical calculations on the diffraction of electromagnetic waves by a sphere. It was on this work that he revealed his exceptional powers of carrying out research by numerical methods, without the aid of any calculating machines. This work led him to evaluate certain mathematical functions, 'Riccati-Bessel functions', which in turn led to his appointment to the British Association Committee on Mathematical Tables.

In 1916 Dr Doodson became an assistant to Professor Karl Pearson of University College, London, and it was here that he first used desk calculating machines. He became engaged on special work for the Government.

In 1919 the University of Liverpool established the Tidal Institute, and Dr Doodson was appointed to the post of Secretary, under the Directorship of Professor J.Proudman . It was here that he first began his work on tides, with an intensive analysis of the tides at Newlyn. He was soon appointed Secretary of the British Association Committee on Tides, and in 1920 published a report on the accuracy of the harmonic prediction of tides, followed by a report on the analysis of the Newlyn observations.

After studying Sir G.H. Darwin's development of the tides' generating forces, Dr Doodson developed a new concept of taking harmonic constituents to their ultimate conclusion. This was then adopted internationally as standard. Over the next few years he studied the effects of wind and atmospheric pressure on the tides and sea levels. He also began work on the construction of co-tidal charts, which were later adopted by the Admiralty.

Dr Doodson's first produced a tide-table in 1923, giving predictions of the times and heights of high water at Liverpool for 1924. This work was done without the aid of a tide-predicting machine, the calculations being carried out on an ordinary desk calculating machine. The following year the times and heights of low waters were included.

In 1924 the Tidal Institute acquired its first tide-predicting machine, which was built by Kelvin, Bottomley and Baird of Glasgow. Dr Doodson took a great interest in the details of the design, ultimately making major contributions to the design of later machines, in particular the Doodson- Légé Tide Predicting Machine now on display at The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory.

In 1927 he published his paper on the harmonic analysis of tidal observations, which was revolutionary at that time. His method of applying harmonic shallow water corrections to predictions of high and low waters made possible the prediction of high and low waters for estuaries, which had previously been impossible.

In 1928 Dr Doodson was asked to investigate the causes of the flooding which took place in the River Thames that January. He discovered that this was due to a storm surge, which had travelled southwards along the east coasts of Scotland and England. This was the start of the very important work of the Institute on methods of forecasting storm surges, which continues to the present day.

In 1929, when the Tidal Institute was amalgamated with Liverpool Observatory, Dr Doodson became Associate Director.

Over the next few years Dr Doodson's work resulted in co-tidal charts for both the diurnal and semi-diurnal constituents in oceans of different depths. He then published several other papers on the theoretical tides in oceans bounded by meridians.

In 1933 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He also designed and supervised the construction of a current meter for use in an observational study of turbulence in tidal currents. In 1934, in conjunction with Dr R.H.Corkan, he devised and published the first method for the analytical separation of the loading tide and the body tide in observations of earth tides taken at Bidston.

In collaboration with H.D.Warburg, Dr Doodson wrote the textbook, The Admiralty Manual of Tides, which was published in 1941.

During the years of World War Two, much valuable work was carried out at the Institute, when tides were predicted at short notice for the war effort. One of the tide predicting machines was in the cellar and the other was in an underground room in the Observatory grounds. Photographic facilities were obtained, so that further copies of predictions could be provided quickly, in the event of their loss at sea.

In 1946 Dr Doodson was made a member of the Hydraulics Research Board, where he emphasised the importance of giving due weight to tidal theory in the use of small-scale models. On the retirement of Professor Proudman he became Director of the Liverpool Observatory and Tidal Institute, which later became the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory.

Over the next years Dr Doodson was made a member of various national and international committees, and contributed to the scientific proceedings of many international conferences.

In 1953 he was elected chairman of the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level of the International Union of Geodesy and Physics. Also in 1953, Dr Doodson was honoured with the distinction of being elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society in Edinburgh. Two years later he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Dr Doodson retired in 1960 after a long and distinguished career. He died in 1968.


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