Helmut Erich Landsberg was a distinguished scientist whose career in the fields of meteorology and climatology spanned over five decades. Landsberg is considered the founder of modern climatology for his pioneering efforts in the statistical analysis of climate, and his wide-ranging research interests which included the effects of urbanization on the environment and biometeorology, the study of weather's effect on human health and behavior.
Helmut Erich Landsberg was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on February 9, 1906. He studied Geophysics at the University of Frankfurt where he earned his Ph.D. in 1930; his dissertation dealt with seismography. From 1930 to 1934 he was the supervisor of the Taunus Observatory at Frankfurt's Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics. Then, in 1934, Landsberg became assistant professor of geophysics at the Pennsylvania State University where he initiated courses in meteorology and geophysics and conducted research in the field of air pollution. During his tenure at Penn State, Landsberg became a naturalized American citizen in 1938. In 1941 he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as associate professor of meteorology where he taught for two years. From 1942 to 1945, Landsberg was an operations analyst with the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the U.S. Air Force), determining climatic conditions in various theatres of the war for military strategists. In 1946 Landsberg became the acting director of the Joint Research and Development Board's Committee on Geophysical Sciences. Three years later he became director of the committee, whose name had been changed to the Committee on Geophysics and Geography. Subsequently, from 1951 to 1954, Landsberg served as the director of the Geophysics Research Directorate of the U.S. Air Force Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1954, Landsberg became director of the U.S. Weather Bureau's Office of Climatology. Eleven years later, he was appointed director of the Environment Data Services of the newly-founded Environmental Sciences Services Administration, a position he held until 1966. In 1964 Landsberg returned to the world of academia with an appointment as part-time lecturer at the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Maryland at College Park. In 1967, Landsberg accepted an appointment as research professor, and, from 1974 to 1976, served as director of the institute. He was also instrumental in founding the Department of Meteorology as well as establishing a graduate program in that discipline at the University. After his retirement from the University of Maryland in 1976, Landsberg became professor emeritus, the position he held at the time of his death in 1985.
Throughout his career Helmut Landsberg published approximately 400 articles in scientific journals as well as in such publications as the Encyclopedia Americana Annual. He also published a number of studies and technical notes while in government service and as a research professor at the University of Maryland. He authored the monographs Climate and Health, Urban Climate, and Physical CLimatology, co-authored additional books, and was editor-in-chief of World Survey of Climatology. Landsberg also edited 19 volumes of Advances in Geophysics, General Climatology, and the Handbook of Applied Meteorology, and served as associate editor of the Journal of Meteorology, Meteorological Monographs, and Boundary Layer Meteorology.
Helmut Landsberg was a member and officer of many scientific and professional organizations. He held fellowships in the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Important offices held by Landsberg include his vice presidency and presidency of the AGU's meteorological section in 1953-1956 and 1956-1959 respectively. From 1966 to 1968 Landsberg served as the AGU's vice president and as its president from 1968 to 1970.
Landsberg was vice president of the AMS (1963-1965) and chairman of the AMS's Awards Committee (1974-1975). Also, from 1969 until 1980 he was president of the American Institute of Medical Climatology. And his affiliation with the World Meteorological Organization included his presidency of the Commission for Special Applications of Meteorology and Climatology (1969-1976), membership in the Advisory Working Group (1978-1981), and membership in the Commission for Climatology (1981-1985).
Landsberg was chairman of the Publications Committee of the International Biometeorological Society from 1960 to 1985, and chairman of section E of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1973. And, in 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed Landsberg to serve a three-year term on the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmospheres.
Landsberg also received numerous awards. Among the most important were the AGU's William Bowie Medal, which he received in 1978, and the IMO prize of the World Meteorological Organization, given to Landsberg in 1979. The following year, the German Meteorological Society presented Landsberg with the Alfred Wegener Medal, and in 1981 he received the AMS's Cleveland Abbe Award. In addition, Landsberg was honored with the William F. Petersen Foundation Award for outstanding accomplishments in the field of biometeorology (1982), and with the National Medal of Science, presented to him by President Ronald Reagan in February 1985.
Helmut Landsberg died on December 6, 1985 while attending a congress of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.