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Reginald E. Newell

Professor Reginald E. Newell SM ’56, a meteorologist who studied global air pollution and climate systems, died Dec. 29 of a massive stroke. He was 71 years old.

Newell, a native of the United Kingdom, earned his bachelor’s degree in 1954 from the University of Birmingham. After graduation he came to MIT as a research assistant in meteorology. He earned his master’s in 1956 and his doctorate in 1960. After earning his ScD, he served as an assistant professor in Course XII (Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Planetary Sciences) from 1961 to 1966. Three years after his promotion to associate professor, he became a full professor in 1969.

Newell taught classes on the physics of the upper atmosphere, climatology, and global air pollution.

“Reg had the enthusiasm of a freshman undergraduate even though he was into his 70s,” said Professor John C. Marshall, also of Course XII. “He did, after all, die at his desk working, something that he would not have been disappointed about,” Marshall said.

Research centered on air pollution

As a professor, Newell focused on climate problems and the factors controlling mass climatic fluctuations, as well as on the physics of the ice ages. In his early work on global warming, Newell studied the effects of changing carbon dioxide concentrations on atmospheric heating rates and on the global circulation of carbon monoxide.

His work led him to warn a Massachusetts legislative committee in 1969 that Boston would develop a serious smog problem comparable to that in Los Angeles if automobile traffic went unchecked. His proposed solution was high speed trains from Logan Airport to New York that would travel through a harbor tunnel.

Newell worked with NASA

Later in his career, in the 1980s and 1990s, he participated in the NASA Stratosphere-Troposphere Exchange Program experiments over Australia, investigating how the circulation in that region interacts with the ocean and carries air from the troposphere to the stratosphere.

Throughout the 1990s, Newell served as mission meteorologist for several NASA missions over the Pacific. “He was a field experimentalist who was never happier than when flying around over the Pacific Ocean measuring chemical constituents,” Marshall said.

He was also a member of the Measure of Air Pollution by Satellites (MAPS) team that measured carbon monoxide from space, and he participated in two 1994 space shuttle experiments on carbon monoxide.

Newell served as president of the International Association for Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics (IAMAP) International Commission on Climate from 1977 to 1983 and was a member of the IAMAP Commissions on Meteorology of the Upper Atmosphere and Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution from 1971 to 1983. His honors include the 1985 Alexander Von Humboldt Award and the Japan International Science and Technology Agency Fellowship in 1990.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters, two sons, and two grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23, at 5:30 p.m. in the MIT Chapel. Following the service, the department will host a reception in the Ida M. Green Lounge, Room 54-923.