Kuo-Nan Liou, a UCLA distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and the founding director of the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering (JIFRESSE), died March 20 at his home in Los Angeles after a brief illness. He was 77.
“Kuo-Nan was a great scientist and an outstanding leader, who had a profound impact on science and on UCLA. We will miss him greatly,” said Miguel Garcia-Garibay, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences.
A former chair of UCLA’s department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, Liou joined UCLA’s faculty in 1997, after a 22-year faculty career at the University of Utah. Liou was also a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.
He made fundamental contributions in research areas such as satellite remote sensing and the role of clouds and aerosols in climate and greenhouse warming. He was the author of three books: “An Introduction to Atmospheric Radiation” (1980); “Radiation and Cloud Processes in the Atmosphere: Theory, Observation, and Modeling” (1992); and “Light Scattering by Ice Crystals: Fundamentals and Applications” (2016). Liou was also the author or co-author of more than 280 peer-reviewed articles published in national and international scientific journals.
In 2007, Liou shared the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He was elected a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2017 for his scientific achievements and contributions to the promotion of the development of science and technology in China. Established in 1949, the Chinese Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s largest research institutions and a central component of the government’s effort to utilize science and technology to improve conditions around the world.
He was a recipient of the 2018 Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal for intellectual leadership and seminal contributions to improving the theory and application of atmospheric radiative transfer and its interactions with clouds and aerosols. The award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the American Meteorological Society, recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations of the weather, water and climate community.
Liou was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1999 and a member of the Academia Sinica (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Taiwan) in 2004. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the Optical Society of America and the American Meteorological Society. Liou received a creativity award from the National Science Foundation in 1996 for his research on light scattering by ice crystals, and he was the recipient of the Jule G. Charney Award from the American Meteorological Society in 1998 “for his pioneering work in the theory and application of radiative transport and its interaction with clouds.” In 2010, he was awarded the Committee on Space Research’s William Nordberg Medal, which is awarded every two years and recognizes “contributions of leading scientists to the application of space science.” Liou received the International Radiation Commission (IRC) Quadrennial Gold Medal at the 2012 IRC Symposium for his “contributions of lasting significance to the field of radiation research.” In 2013, Dr. Liou was awarded the Roger Revelle Medal from the American Geophysical Union “for outstanding contributions in atmospheric sciences and related aspects of the Earth system.”
Recognizing the potential significance for collaborative research on climate modeling and environmental change, Liou, with Randy Friedl, spearheaded the establishment of JIFRESSE, a scientific collaboration between UCLA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The institute helps to improve understanding and develop future projections about global climate change and its effect on regional climates and environments. Liou was appointed as its founding director in 2006 by the late Roberto Peccei, UCLA’s then–vice chancellor for research.
In 2019, a research team of scientists — led by Liou and Yu Gu, an associate director of the institute — was awarded a $2.1 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office to improve climate models.
Read more about Liou’s research, which has been supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA.
He is survived by his wife, Agnes; daughter Julia; and son Cliff.