45th Anniversary of African Easterly Wave paper

Dr. Robert Burpee

Dr. Robert Burpee

In the January 1972 issue of the Journal of Atmospheric Science, Robert W. Burpee (future director of HRD) published a paper explaining the mechanism by which African Easterly Waves (AEW) formed.  Using five years of upper-air data from above Africa, he demonstrated that airflow over the Ethiopian highlands created instabilities in the wind stream that moved downwind over the Atlantic Ocean.  These waves are regular features of the tropical Atlantic during the summer and early fall and spawn roughly half of the tropical cyclones that form in the Atlantic, and many others in the Eastern Pacific.

The paper has been cited over 100 times and has been greatly influential in meteorologists’ understanding of tropical-wave formation.

Burpee, R., 1972: The Origin and Structure of Easterly Waves in the Lower Troposphere of North Africa. J. Atmos. Sci., 29, 77–90, doi: 10.1175/1520-0469(1972)029<0077:TOASOE>2.0.CO;2.