Conway B. Leovy

Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysics

July 16, 1933 - July 9, 2011

Conway Leovy

We have lost a brilliant scientist and a dear friend.


In recognition of his distinguishd career as a faculty member, a remembrance celebration of Conway Leovy will be held at the University of Washington at 3:30 pm, Friday, September 30, in 102 Johnson Hall.

Conway Leovy: Scientific Career

Conway’s contributions to our understanding of planetary atmospheres span over forty years, thirty-one of which were spent as a professor at the University of Washington (UW). Conway joined the UW faculty in 1968 and was a full Professor from 1974 to 1999, after which he retired from teaching but remained active in research. He received a BA in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Southern California in 1954, was a weather forecaster for the US Air Force from 1954 to 1958, and completed a PhD in Meteorology at MIT in 1963. Before he joined the University of Washington, Conway was a research meteorologist at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, CA, where he made major contributions to our understanding of the chemistry and dynamics of Earth's atmosphere. During these early years, Conway furthered our understanding in different branches of atmospheric science: the chemistry of atmospheric ozone, the behavior of convection near the surface of the Earth, and the energy budget and motion of the air in Earth’s mesosphere (about 55-85 km altitude). It was at Rand that Conway began research about Mars—a scientific area that continued to fascinate him throughout the rest of his career. After Conway joined the University of Washington, he extended his research to other celestial bodies, including Jupiter, Venus and Titan. One of Conway’s hopes was that a general theory of atmospheric dynamics might be developed that could explain the observed winds, temperatures and energy distributions in each planetary atmosphere. But when the data came back from spacecraft in the 1970s and 1980s, he came to realize that planetary atmospheres are so strange and diverse that a group of general principles rather than a general theory was the more practical pursuit.

One of Conway’s early scientific achievements was the first ever computer model of Mars’ global atmosphere. The model was an early version of the sort that’s commonly used today to simulate the Earth’s climate. Conway worked with Yale Mintz of the University of California, Los Angeles, who, according to Conway, “painted this immense canvas of applying numerical models to every atmosphere in the Solar System” in lectures during the early 1960s. Carl Sagan’s former student, Jim Pollack, who was at NASA's Ames Research Center, recognized the importance of the Leovy-Mintz model for NASA's Mars exploration and began a collaboration that brought the model to Ames. The computer model has evolved and continues to be improved up to the present day. Indeed, the Ames model and similar forms of it elsewhere are the basis for predictions about the Martian atmosphere used by NASA for sending probes to Mars.

Conway was fortunate to come of professional age during the Space Age, which enabled him to participate directly in NASA’s missions to Mars. These were groundbreaking missions because the limitations of telescopic studies left a great deal to be discovered. During the 1960s, Conway participated in imaging experiments on NASA’s Mariner 6 and 7 flyby missions to Mars, which were followed, in the 1970s, with participation in the imaging experiment of the Mariner 9 Mars orbiter and the Meteorology Experiment on NASA’s Viking Landers. Later, Conway was a Co-Investigator for the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005. In 1973, Conway was awarded the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal—an award given for unusually significant scientific accomplishments that contribute to NASA’s programs. He was also a joint recipient of the 1978 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Newcombe Cleveland Award given to the scientific investigators on NASA’s Viking Mission.

Missions to Mars were only part of Conway’s involvement with space projects, because he also was involved in observing the Earth’s atmosphere from space. In the 1970s, Conway became a Co-Investigator for the Limb Infrared Monitor of the Stratosphere (LIMS) instrument that flew on the Nimbus 7 satellite. LIMS was designed to measure vertical temperature profiles and the concentrations of key chemical compounds that were important in the stratospheric chemistry of ozone; ozone itself was directly measured by another instrument on Nimbus 7. Nimbus 7 observations obtained between 1978 and 1994 showed that the ozone hole appearing each winter season over the Antarctic grew bigger and was definitively linked to manmade chlorofluorocarbons. Later, Conway participated in the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, deployed in 1991 by the Space Shuttle. Data from this satellite improved our understanding of the chemistry and radiation of Earth’s mesosphere and stratosphere. Besides these studies, Conway also became interested in the climatic impact of clouds over the ocean. For the wider community, Conway served on committees for NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, and the University Cooperation for Atmospheric Research. At the University of Washington, Conway was also the director of the Institute of Environmental Studies from 1986 to 1989.

Conway’s outstanding contributions to science are his studies of the structure and circulation of planetary atmospheres, their radiation, and their interactions with the planetary surfaces. Conway always favored an interdisciplinary approach and in the late 1990s, he became a great supporter of NASA’s new thrust in astrobiology, i.e., the science concerned with life on Earth and elsewhere in a cosmic context. At the same time, Conway developed a keen interest in examining the geology of the surface of Mars to look for signs of ancient climate change. In 2000, the contribution of Conway’s career was recognized by the Kuiper Prize of American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Science. The Kuiper Prize is awarded to scientists whose achievements have most advanced our understanding of the planets.

Of course, great professors also have a very large influence through their mentoring of students and assistance to colleagues. Many of Conway’s former graduate students have gone on to notable careers as government scientists and university professors. Graduate students advised by Conway include:

Atmospheric Sciences Graduate Students

  • Tom Ackerman, Professor, University of Washington (PhD, 1976).
  • Louis John Bajuk, MathSoft Inc., Seattle (MS, 1997).
  • Nancy Louise Baker, Naval Research Laboratory (MS, 1985).
  • Jeff Barnes, Professor, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR (PhD, 1983).
  • Douglas Edward Burks, F5 Networks, Inc., Seattle (MS, 1986).
  • Lawrence Coy, NASA GSFC/General Sciences Corporation, Beltsville, MD (PhD, 1983).
  • Lee S. Elson, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (PhD, 1975).
  • Paul Walter Greiman, Naval Air Warfare Center (MS, 1978).
  • Fan Guo (MS, 1995).
  • Robert Haberle, Planetary Scientist and Former Chief of the Planetary Systems Branch at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA (PhD, 1981).
  • Matthew Hitchman, Professor, University of Wisconsin (PhD, 1985).
  • Donna Virginia Lamb, Air Quality Specialist, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (MS, 1975).
  • Many LamChanKee (MS, 1987).
  • Ruth Lieberman, Scientist, Northwest Research Associates (PhD, 1992).
  • Varavut Limpasuvan, Professor, Coastal Carolina University (PhD, 1998).
  • James R. Murphy, Associate Professor, Astronomy, New Mexico State University (PhD, 1991).
  • Matthew Newman, Scientist, NOAA, Boulder (PhD, 1991).
  • Joel Norris, Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (PhD, 1997).
  • Sungsu Park, Scientist, NCAR (PhD, 2002).
  • Jordan Lee Sutton, Forensic Meteorologist, Cascade Climatology Consulting Corp. (MS, 1977).
  • Paul Try, Sr. Vice President, Science and Technology Corporation (PhD, 1972).
  • Edward Lowell Wees (MS, 1969).
  • Tsuguhito Yamasaki (MS, 1988).
  • Richard Zurek, Chief Scientist for the Mars Exploration Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Pasadena, CA (PhD, 1974).

Earth and Space Sciences or Astronomy Graduate Students

  • John Armstrong (Astronomy), Professor, Weber State University, UT.
  • Anne K. Smith (ESS), Senior Scientist, NCAR.
  • Yvan J. Orsolini (ESS), Scientist, Norwegian Institute for Air Research.
  • Von Walden (ESS), Professor, University of Idaho.

For colleagues, Conway was the ‘go-to’ person in the UW Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences when you didn’t know the answer to some tricky scientific question or problem. Conway had the reputation as the only professor likely to pass the departmental qualifying exam without studying ahead of time. To put this in context, the stature of the Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences has long been one of the best (or the best) in the world in the area of atmospheric sciences. Yet despite all this, Conway was notable for his remarkable modesty, affability, and unfailing generosity in dealing with colleagues and students. Although Conway’s scientific ideas will live on the scientific literature, such personal traits are perhaps the most memorable things for students and colleagues who have worked with Conway.


  • Andrews, D. G., Holton, J. R., Leovy, C. B., 1987. Middle Atmosphere Dynamics, Academic Press.

Selected Publications about Mars:

  • Leovy, C. B. and Y. Mintz, 1969: Numerical Simulation of the Atmospheric Circulation and Climate on Mars. J. Atmos. Sci., 26, 1167-1190.
  • Leovy, C. B., R. W. Zurek and J. B. Pollack, 1973: Mechanisms for Mars Dust Storms. J. Atmos. Sci., 30, 749-762.
  • Leovy, C. B., G. A. Briggs and B. A. Smith, 1973: Mars Atmosphere during the Mariner 9 Extended Mission: Television Results. J. Geophys. Res., 78, 4252-4266.
  • Briggs, G. A. and C. B. Leovy, 1974: Mariner 9 observations of the Mars north polar hood. Bull. Amer. Met. Soc., 55, 278-296.
  • Leovy, C. B., 1977: The Atmosphere of Mars. Scientific American, 237, 34-43.
  • Ryan, J. A., R. M. Henry, S. L. Hess, C. B. Leovy, J. E. Tillman and C. Walcek, 1978: Mars Meteorology: Three Seasons at the Surface. Geophys. Res. Letters, 5, 715-718.
  • Leovy, C. B. and R. W. Zurek, 1979: Thermal Tides and Martian Dust Storms: Direct Evidence for Coupling. J. Geophys. Res., 84, 2956-2968.
  • Zurek, R. W. and C. B. Leovy, 1981: Thermal Tides in the Dusty Martian Atmosphere: A Verification of Theory. Science, 213, 437-439.
  • Leovy, C. B., 1981, The martian lower atmosphere. Nature, 294, 310-311.
  • Leovy, C. B., J. R. Tillman, W. R. Guest and J. Barnes, 1985: Interannual Variability of Martian Weather. In Recent Advances in Planetary Meteorology (G. E. Hunt, Ed.), 69-84, Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Zurek, R. W., J. R. Barnes, R. M. Haberle, J. B. Pollack, J. E. Tillman and C. B. Leovy, 1992: Dynamics of the Atmosphere of Mars. Chap. 26 in Mars , H. H. Kieffer, B. M. Jakosky, C. W. Snyder and M. S. Matthews (eds.). U. of Arizona Press, Tucson, pp. 835-933.
  • Murphy, J. R., J. B. Pollack, R. M. Haberle, C. B. Leovy, O. B. Toon, and J. Schaeffer, 1996: Three-Dimensional Numerical Simulations of Martian Global Dust Storms. J. Geophys. Res., 100 (E12), 26357-26376.
  • Leovy, C., 2001: Weather and Climate on Mars. Nature, 412, 245-249.
  • Armstrong, J. C., C. B. Leovy, and T. Quinn, 2004, A 1 Gyr climate model for Mars: new orbital statistics and the importance of seasonally resolved polar processes. Icarus, 171, 255-271.
  • Armstrong, J. C., Leovy, C. B., 2005. Long-term wind erosion on Mars. Icarus, 176, 57-74.
  • Catling, D. C., S. E. Wood, C. Leovy, D. R. Montgomery, H. M. Greenberg, C. R. Glein, and J. M. Moore, 2006, Light-toned layered deposits in Juventae Chasma, Mars. Icarus, 181, 26-51.
  • McCleese, D. J., J. T. Schofield, F. W. Taylor, W. A. Abdou, O. Aharonson, D. Banfield, S. B. Calcutt, N. G. Heavens, P. G. J. Irwin, D. M. Kass, A. Kleinbohl, W. G. Lawson, C. B. Leovy, et al., 2008, Intense polar temperature inversion in the middle atmosphere on Mars. Nature Geoscience, 1, 745-749.
  • Lee, C., W. G. Lawson, M. I. Richardson, N. G. Heavens, A. Kleinbohl, D. Banfield, D. J. McCleese, R. Zurek, D. Kass, J. T. Schofield, C. B. Leovy, F. W. Taylor, and A. D. Toigo, 2009, Thermal tides in the Martian middle atmosphere as seen by the Mars Climate Sounder. J. Geophys. Res., 114, E03005.
  • Catling, D. C., Leovy, C. B., Wood, S. E., Day, M. D., 2011. A lava sea in the northern lowlands of Mars: Circumpolar oceans reconsidered, submitted.

Selected publications about the atmospheres of Jupiter, Venus and Titan

  • Leovy C. B., 1973. Rotation of the upper atmosphere of Venus. J. Atmos. Sci., 30, 1218–1220.
  • Leovy, C. B., Pollack, J. B., 1973. A first look at atmospheric dynamics and temperature variations on Titan. Icarus, 19, 195.
  • Orsolini, Y.; Leovy, C. B., 1989. Linear properties of eddies in a Jovian troposphere forced by deep jets. Geophys. Res. Lett., 16, 1245-1248.
  • Leovy, C. B., Friedson, A. J., Orton, Glenn S, 1991. The quasiquadrennial oscillation of Jupiter's equatorial stratosphere. Nature, 354, 380-382.
  • Newman M, Leovy C., 1992. Maintenance of strong rotational winds in Venus' middle atmosphere by thermal tides. Science, 257, 647-50.
  • Orsolini, Y., and C. B. Leovy, 1993, A model of large-scale instabilities in the Jovian troposphere 2. Quasi-linear model. Icarus, 106, 406-418.

Selected publications about Earth’s atmosphere

  • Leovy, C. B., 1964. Simple models of thermally driven mesospheric circulation. J. Atmos. Sci., 21, 327-341.
  • Leovy, C. B., 1968. Water vapor in upper atmosphere. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 49, 841.
  • Wehrbein, W. M., and C. B. Leovy, 1982, An Accurate Radiative Heating and Cooling Algorithm for Use in a Dynamical Model of the Middle Atmosphere. J. Atmos. Sci., 39, p. 1532-1544.
  • Leovy, C. B., 1982. Control of the homopause level. Icarus, 50, 311-321.
  • Hitchman, M. H., Leovy, C. B., 1985. Diurnal Tide in the Equatorial Middle Atmosphere as Seen in LIMS Temperatures. J. Atmos. Sci., 42, 557-561.
  • Hitchman, M. H., Leovy, C. B., 1986. Evolution of the zonal mean state in the equatorial middle atmosphere during October 1978-May 1979. J. Atmos. Sci., 43, 3159-3176.
  • Sun, C. R., Leovy, C., 1990. Ozone Variability in the Equatorial Middle Atmosphere. J. Geophys. Res., 95, 13829-13849.
  • Lieberman, R. S., C. B. Leovy, B. A. Boville, and B. P. Briegleb, 1994, Diurnal Heating and Cloudiness in the NCAR Community Climate Model (CCM2). Journal of Climate, 7, 869-889.
  • Lieberman, R. S., Leovy, C. B., 1995. A numerical model of non-migrating diurnal tides between the surface and 65 km. J. Atmos. Sci., 52, 389-409.
  • Limpasuvan, V., Leovy, C. B., 1995. Observation of the two-day wave near the southern summer stratopause. Geophys. Res. Lett., 22, 2385-2388.
  • Rozendaal, M. A., C. B. Leovy, and S. A. Klein, 1995, An observational study of diurnal variations of marine stratiform cloud. Journal of Climate, 8, 1795-1809.
  • Orsolini, Y. J., V. Limpasuvan, and C. B. Leovy, 1997, The tropical stratopause in the UKMO stratospheric analyses: Evidence for a 2-day wave and inertial circulations. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 123, 1707-1724.
  • Park, S., Leovy, C. B., 2000. Winter North Atlantic low cloud anomalies associated with the Northern Hemisphere annular mode. Geophys. Res. Lett., 27, 3357-3360.
  • Limpasuvan, V., C. B. Leovy, and Y. J. Orsolini, 2000, Observed temperature two-day wave and its relatives near the stratopause. J. Atmos. Sci., 57, 1689-1701.

Memorial Service

The memorial service was held on Saturday, August 13, at 11:00 AM at Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, 225 N 70th St, on the corner of Greenwood Ave N and 70th (~10 blocks north of the zoo). There was a reception afterward.