Samuel G. Philander

Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences, Emeritus
Department of Geosciences
Climate Science

Title: Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences, Emeritus

Area(s): Climate Science


Autobiography pdf

Annual Review of Marine Science

From Stamps to Parabolas

S. George Philander
Annu. Rev.Mar. Sci. 2023. 15:15.1–15.14


I am a child of Sputnik, the satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. That event created opportunities for me to escape the horrors of apartheid by emigrating from South Africa to the United States. There, fortuitously, I was given excellent opportunities to explore how an interplay between the waves and currents influences climate variability, from interannual El Niño events to millennial ice ages. During my career, I also witnessed intriguing facets of the interactions between the profoundly different worlds of science and of human affairs. Up to 1957, El Niño was welcomed as a blessing, but by 1982 it had become a curse—not because it changed, but because our human activities are making us vulnerable to natural climate variability. We have learned to cope admirably with the occasional failures of the Indian monsoons; the resultant famines are not as calamitous as they once were. What guidance does that limited success provide for a response to global warming, a climate change we humans are inducing? This article briefly summarizes how my career as a geoscientist brought me to the conclusion that a strategy to promote responsible stewardship of planet Earth should be based on love rather than fear. We can only love what we know, so warnings of imminent gloom and doom should be complemented with efforts to make everyone aware of the wonders of our amazing planet—the only one in the universe known to be habitable.


Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Marine Science, Volume 15 is January 2023.

Figure 2. a. and b. Image of the HMS Challenger and illustration of The Tropical Ocean–Global Atmosphere (TOGA)
Figure 2 - (a) The corvette HMS Challenger, which launched the science of oceanography when it circumnavigated the globe between 1872 and 1878. (b) The Tropical Ocean–Global Atmosphere (TOGA) array of instruments, which monitors conditions in the tropical Pacific today. Panel a adapted from The H.M.S. Challenger in the Southern Ocean, painted by Herbert Swire, taken from a public domain image in the State Library Victoria archive; panel b adapted with permission from a NOAA image originally published by McPhaden et al. 1998).