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Insight into marine science
Observatory history

Professor Joseph Proudman
Joseph Proudman was born on December 30th 1888 near Bury, Lancashire. He entered Liverpool University in 1907, taking mathematics and physics as his principle subjects and history as a one-year subject. In 1909 he was awarded the ordinary degree of BSc and in1910 was awarded the degree of BSc with honours in mathematics, and was awarded the Derby scholarship for mathematics and the Ronald Hudson prize for geometry. He was also awarded an entrance exhibition to Trinity College, Cambridge, and with this and the Derby scholarship he entered Trinity College in 1910. Here he studied pure and applied mathematics and mathematical physics. He also had a particular interest in hydrodynamics, astronomy, electric waves and potential theory.



Professor Joseph Proudman

After graduation Proudman was keen to start research, and he eventually contacted Professor Lamb of Manchester, who replied with a problem on the theory of ocean tides. Occupation with this problem set the course of Proudman's entire subsequent career in research.

He was appointed as lecturer in mathematics at Liverpool University in 1913. During his first year as lecturer he had little time for research, but he found time to direct the postgraduate work of A.T.Doodson for the degree of MSc, and thus began a collaboration which continued until Doodson's death.

In 1915 Proudman became Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He did not serve in World War I, being in a low medical category, but spent most of the war years in Liverpool until 1918, when he worked in the Research Department of Woolwich Arsenal.

In 1919 Proudman persuaded two Liverpool shipowners, the Booth brothers, chairmen of the Booth Steamship Co and the Cunard Steamship Co, to offer funds for the foundation of the Tidal Institute at Liverpool, and for its maintenance for a trial period of five years. The University accepted the offer and Proudman was appointed Honorary Director of the Institute with Doodson as Secretary. Proudman was also appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Liverpool.

In 1929 the Tidal Institute was amalgamated with the Liverpool Observatory which was the property of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and this placed the Institute on a more permanent financial basis. Dr Doodson was then appointed Associate Director and remained so until Proudman gave up the Directorship in 1946, when Doodson became Director.

In 1933 Proudman transferred from the chair of applied mathematics to that of oceanography, and he changed the emphasis of the department from that of marine biology to physical oceanography. He extended his own research interests to include oceanic circulation, temperature and salinity. He also initiated observational work in the Irish Sea. Together with Dr R.J.Daniel, he organised the collection of temperature and salinity data from lighthouses, light vessels and steamers crossing the Irish Sea. The collection of these data spanned the period from 1934 to 1965. The data from these unbroken series of observations formed the basis of several analyses by Proudman and others. He and Daniel also arranged for current measurements to be made at the Skulmartin lightvessel, off the N.E. coast of Ireland for a 14-month period in 1935-6. This was the only long series of continuous current measurements to be made in the Irish Sea until moored current meters came into general use in 1966.

Proudman and Daniel's main practical achievement was the purchase of a small fishing boat, the Zephyr, its conversion to a research boat, and its operation in Manx waters during the summers of 1936-39. They joined forces with the Tidal Institute, calling on the services of Dr Corkan and employed only one professional seaman. Daniel became the skipper, and Proudman, Doodson and Corkan were the scientists-cum-crew. The object of this work was the determination of the characteristics of turbulence and the magnitude of internal friction in a tidal current, and Doodson designed his current meter for this investigation. World War II halted these activities and the Zephyr was sold. However, after the war, Proudman persuaded the University to acquire a bigger and better vessel, with a professional crew, for the joint use of the oceanography department and the Marine Biological Station at Port Erin. The work continued, with the benefit of the earlier experience with the Zephyr, and many papers resulted from this work.

In 1940 Proudman was made Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Chairman of the Senate, a post he held for six years. Many difficult problems had to be solved during the war years. Apart from the war effort, plans were made for the post-war development of the University and its buildings. From 1941 to 1954 Proudman was a Justice of the Peace for the City of Liverpool and served regularly on the bench.

Professor Proudman gave the first undergraduate lectures in physical oceanography in 1944-5. A BSc final years honours course in oceanography was initiated in 1947-8, and more than half the course was given by Proudman himself, the lectures forming the basis of his book Dynamical Oceanography.

Proudman was largely responsible for the foundation of the National Institute of Oceanography. The Treasury decreed that Ministers should decide in principle to develop, with the aid of public funds, oceanographic research in all its aspects. The scheme was eventually resolved for 'A Royal Charter incorporating a National Oceanographic Council, with the object of advancing the science of oceanography in all its aspects, under the chairmanship of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and consisting of representatives of Government Departments and Learned Societies most interested, the Universities, and those Governments of the Commonwealth who might be prepared to give financial support'. Proudman was an active member of the Council and its Executive Committee from its beginning in 1949. Learned societies, universities and other laboratories were soon taking an active part in the post-war development of oceanography.

In 1954 he retired from the chair of oceanography and was made Professor Emeritus. In 1956 the University of Liverpool awarded Proudman the honorary degree of LL.D. Although taking no further part in the work of the Institute after it was taken over by the Natural Environment Research Council in 1965, he was always ready to advise on problems.

In 1975 the new building in the grounds of the Observatory was named the Joseph Proudman Building and in 1987 the Institute was renamed The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory.

Joseph Proudman died on 26 June 1975.


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