Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory: Fifty Years of Monitoring the Atmosphere
480pp. November 2011
Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory: Fifty Years of Monitoring the Atmosphere
Author: Mims III, Forrest M.;
Winner of the Atmospheric Science Librarians International Choice Award for History

Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) is one of the world’s leading scientific stations for monitoring the atmosphere. For more than fifty years, beginning with atmospheric chemist Charles Keeling’s readings of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, MLO has provided climate scientists a continuous record of the atmosphere’s increasing concentration of carbon dioxide—and sparked the international debate over global warming. Hawai‘i’s Mauna Loa Observatory tells the story of the men and women who made these and many other measurements near the summit of the world’s largest mountain.

Botanist Archibald Menzies, who trekked up Mauna Loa’s rough, lava-encrusted slopes in 1794, was the first to make scientific measurements from the summit. In the winter of 1840, the US Exploring Expedition spent a grueling three weeks at the edge of the summit crater. Their scientific achievements remained unsurpassed for more than a century and anticipated the research that was begun in 1951, when a primitive weather station was built atop the mountain. Serious research began in 1956 when the first building of the present observatory was erected a few thousand feet below the summit. Recollections of past and present MLO staff detail the historic beginning of carbon-dioxide measurements and many exciting discoveries and near disasters at the remote observatory in this colorful account of the evolution of MLO into a world-class facility.

Today more than a hundred experiments are carried out at MLO, including precise measurements of the ozone layer, the sun’s ultraviolet, the dust and air pollution drifting across the Pacific from Asia, and a wide assortment of gases in the atmosphere. These and other measurements have provided ground truthing for satellite-borne sensors and led to major scientific findings, some of which have influenced public policy decisions.

Hawai‘i’s Mauna Loa Observatory should be read by atmospheric science students to gain an appreciation for the enormous effort required to generate high quality data. Much more than a strict scientific biography of Mauna Loa, this work will also be appreciated by anyone interested in a highly accessible history of the human side of atmospheric observations at a remote, high-altitude observatory.

165 illus., 110 in color
“Writing in a popular, nontechnical style, Mims, a prolific author of electronics-related work, provides an engaging, detailed history of the observatory that will doubtless be of great interest to science historians. The skillful author does an excellent job of humanizing the process of scientific investigation.” —Choice (49:10, June 2012)

“Thanks to unmatched research and fascinating revelations, the establishment and development of the Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawai‘i’s largest mountain is brought to life in Forrest Mims’ book. It removes any doubt of how history-making discoveries often are painstakingly achieved through a combination of visionary insight, tenacious perseverance, and hard work. Mims documents the extraordinary efforts of a handful of scientists and technicians as they revealed and helped alert the modern world to two of the greatest challenges it faces today: global warming and climate change.”—Bernard Mendonca, senior scientist (1958–1995) and on-site meteorologist (1964–1976), Mauna Loa Observatory
Author: Mims III, Forrest M.;
Forrest M. Mims III is the most widely read electronics author in the world. The author of more than sixty books and hundreds of articles published in science magazines and journals, he is cofounder of the company that developed the Altair 8800, the computer that gave birth to the personal-computer revolution in the mid-1970s. In 1993 Mims received a Rolex Award for a global ozone-measuring network that used instruments of his own design. He has been calibrating these instruments and many others at the Mauna Loa Observatory at least once a year since 1992 and has published papers about his findings.
Read Chapter 1 (PDF).
Foreword by Dr. Robert H. Simpson, founder of the Mauna Loa Observatory


1 Earth’s Biggest Mountain 
2 The First Scientific Expeditions (1794, 1825, and 1834) 
3 The United States Exploring Expedition (1840–1841) 
4 Robert Simpson’s Dream: The Mauna Loa Summit Observatory (1951–1954) 
5 Founding of the Slope Unit of the Mauna Loa Observatory (1955–1956) 
6 Startup: The First Science at MLO (1956–1957) 
7 The International Geophysical Year (1958–1959) 
8 Boom and Bust (1960–1963) 
9 Survival Mode and Making History (1964–1965) 
10 The Second Decade (1966–1975) 
11 The Third Decade (1976–1985) 
12 The Fourth Decade (1986–1995) 
13 The Fifth Decade (1996–2005) 
14 The Mauna Loa Observatory Today 
15 The Next Fifty Years 
Epilogue: “We Must Preserve This Progress” 

Appendix: The Current Science Programs 
Subject Index 
Name Index 

Color plates follow pages • 2, 130, 258, 386