Charney studied physics at University of California, Los Angeles where he completed his masters in 1940 and Doctor of Philosophy in 1946. He and von Neumann brought over from England a recent Doctor of Philosophy in meteorological calculations, Bruce Gilchrist, to work on this task using the institute"s computer, the Institute for Advanced Study machine.
He developed a set of equations (The Quasi-Geostrophic Vorticity Equation) for calculating the large-scale motions of planetary-scale waves. He gave the first convincing physical explanation for the development of mid-latitude cyclones known as the Baroclinic Instability theory. He is considered the father of modern dynamical meteorology.
In the 1950s, he was involved in early research on numerical weather prediction together with John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study (Institute for Advanced Study ) in Princeton, New Jersey.
Their collective work paved the way for the founding of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. From 1956 until his death in 1981, Charney was a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1979 Charney chaired an "ad hoc study group on carbon dioxide and climate" for the National Research Council. The resulting 22-page report, "Carbon dioxide and climate: A scientific assessment", is one of the earliest modern scientific assessments about global warming.
Its main conclusion can be found on page 2: "We estimate the most probable global warming for a doubling of Carbon dioxide to be near 3°C with a probable error of ± 1.5°C." This estimate of climate sensitivity has been essentially unchanged for over three decades, e.g., the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) says that "equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C, with a best estimate value of about 3°C. lieutenant is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement with observations is not as good for those values." 1963 Awarded the Symons Gold Medal of the Royal Meteorological Society.
Fellow American Geophysical Union (president meteorological section 1970-1981, Bowie medal 1976), American Meteorological Society (Meisinger award 1949, Carl-Gustav Rossby medal 1964), World Meteorological Organisation, National Academy Sciences, American Academy Arts and Sciences, Royal Swedish (foreign. Member), Norwegian academics science, Phi Beta Kappa.
Children: Nicolas, Nora, Peter.