Reimagining the Arctic Atmosphere: McGill University and Cold War Politics, 1945-1970

32 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2016 Last revised: 15 Oct 2016

See all articles by Matthew Wallace

Matthew Wallace

International Development Research Centre

Date Written: January 5, 2016


Along with the increased exploration and militarization of the Canadian Arctic during the Cold War came a push for civilian and military research. For the most part, new knowledge and views of the Arctic were shaped through an increased presence in the field. This paper, however, turns its attention to the Arctic atmosphere as a scientific ‘space’ that emerged thanks to its strategic importance in the Cold War and thanks to new data and technologies — weather stations, aircraft and computers — that allowed the region to be studied in situ and remotely by meteorologists and climatologists. In Canada, much of this research between 1945 and 1970 was being done on the campus of McGill University, where various institutional configurations fostered the development of both Arctic and meteorological research. In particular, the study of weather and climate at McGill was borne out of a focus on radar and on ‘stormy weather’, expanded to include broad range of geographical expertise, and led to the creation of the Arctic Meteorology Research Group. Taking advantage of favourable conditions at the national, continental and local levels, scientific elites including geographer Kenneth Hare advanced a research agenda focused on the weather and climate of the Arctic. This high-altitude, high-latitude ‘region’ became not only a scientific object in itself, but also the catalyst for a range of Northern and atmospheric research at McGill.

Keywords: Cold War, arctic, climatology, meteorology, history of science, Canada, McGill University

Suggested Citation

Wallace, Matthew, Reimagining the Arctic Atmosphere: McGill University and Cold War Politics, 1945-1970 (January 5, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Wallace (Contact Author)

International Development Research Centre ( email )

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