James Carton is the chair of the Atmospheric and Oceanic Science department at the University of Maryland and is a physical oceanographer interested in the ocean’s role in climate variability. He grew up in a business-oriented suburb just north of Chicago but was very involved in ham radio and so when he went off to college at Princeton he decided to major in Electrical Engineering (actually, he was a joint physics/computer science major since this was part of the Electrical Engineering program at the time). He had done a lot of sailing and as an undergraduate hitchhiked back and forth to the Forrestal research campus, and one time he caught a ride with a faculty member at GFDL (Jerry Mahlman). As a result and the fact that they had a big computer, Jim went to GFDL as a grad student, with George Philander as an advisor. He got restless and in 1977 transferred to University of Washington where he overlapped with our own Sumant Nigam. While there he enjoyed rock climbing, kayaking, and between those activities was looking at surface wave records for David Halpern.
A couple of years later he went back to Princeton and finished his PhD looking at coastal upwelling dynamics and the ocean’s response to long period (two weeks or longer) gravitational tides. In 1983 he became a postdoc with Alan Robinson at Harvard (where he overlapped with our own Ross Salawitch). While there Jim became interested in satellite altimetry, a technique which can be used to measure sea level. Also, he got married to Allison, whom he had met as an undergraduate. Their mutual friend Jim Kinter, who was at GFDL with Sumant and him, had moved to University of Maryland as part of a new center called COLA. After a couple of years he joined them at the University of Maryland, continuing and combining studies of sea level and data assimilation. Jim met Eugenia Kalnay at a summer program on data assimilation at Goddard about this time (and was extremely impressed).
This was a time of great interest in ENSO dynamics (Tony Busalacchi was involved in this), but Jim was curious to explore the corresponding dynamics occurring in the tropical Atlantic basin. It turned out that the Atlantic does have variability like ENSO. But this is relatively weak and as a result changes in SST associated with wind-induced evaporation are relatively more important and lead to meridional shifts in the position of the ITCZ in a positive feedback loop. Around this time Jim got interested in multi-decadal reconstructions of ocean climate variability. This eventually led to his creation of the SODA reanalysis effort which has become a standard product for climate studies.
In the late-1980s Jim met a Soviet oceanographer, Gennady Korotaev, and as a result visited the Marine Hydrophysical Institute in Sevastopol, Ukraine. He invited Gennady Chepurin from MHI to Maryland and a couple of years later he and Gennaday invited Senya Grodsky to join us.
Jim was actively involved in analyzing data from a variety of satellite and in situ observing systems. For example, his first MS student, John Steger, carried out an extensive processing of AVHRR SST to look at the dynamics of the cold tongue in the Atlantic Ocean. Jim’s first PhD student, Jung-Moon Yoo, developed an algorithm to use outgoing long-wave radiation to estimate rainfall into the tropical Atlantic. For many years he played squash on UMD club teams (Squash Club of University of Maryland) and also adult league soccer.
When Jim first arrived in 1985 the department had a very traditional disciplinary outlook and was somewhat sleepy. The department went through a significant upheaval in the early 1990s, becoming more disciplinarily broad, and the new faculty flourished. Partly as a result and because of the increasing recognition of the importance of atmospheric and oceanic science Jim has really enjoyed seeing AOSC rise both within UMD and within the broader academic community.
Currently Jim and Allison and have two children: Sam and Molly. For the first year or two Sam and Russ Dickerson’s daughter, Sarah, shared childcare. Sam is now a grad student at University of Michigan in information science and Molly is a physics undergrad. My wife Allison had started as a medieval scholar but converted to computer science. Among other activities Allison has co-led the effort to extend IP, creating IPv6.