Professor Sir John Houghton, CBE FRS FLSW
20 Apr 2020



30 December 1931 – 15 April 2020


​​​​Professor Sir John Houghton speaking at RAL Space 50th Anniversary event in 2012

Credit: STFC RAL Space
​It is with much sadness and regret that we share the news that Professor Sir John Houghton, former Appleton Laboratory Director sadly passed away on 15th April 2020 from Covid-19 related complications.

Sir John steered the merger of the Appleton Laboratory and the Rutherford Laboratory in his Directorship between 1979 and 1983, founding the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the origins of today's RAL Space. Leaving the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory to become the Director General of the Meteorological Office from 1983 to 1991, he maintained his interests in RAL as an honorary scientist, returning to give talks and to meet up with colleagues.

Sir John was inspirational to current and former members of staff. In his early career he had pioneered the UK involvement in Earth observation from space through a series of infrared sounders which flew on US satellites until 2006.

At RAL, he was the driving force behind our early involvement in Earth observation, notably including the Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) through which his legacy will include global measurements of sea surface temperature over three decades to date, a crucial climate record used by scientists today. 

He later became Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), overseeing its first three reports on global warning.  As co-chair he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 on behalf of the IPCC scientific assessment working group alongside former American Vice-President and climate change campaigner Al Gore.

Professor Chris Mutlow, Director RAL Space; “John was an exceptional atmospheric and climate physicist, who was hugely supportive to his colleagues, students and staff; his leadership and encouragement inspired me to take up my D.Phil. He leaves an immense legacy in his body of work and in the people he trained."

We offer our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to Sir John's family at this very difficult time.  He was an inspirational man in so many ways and to so many people. ​

 Left to right: Geoff Manning, Godfrey Stafford, Prof Sir John Houghton in front of 12m satellite dish in 1981​. Credit: STFC RAL Space