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kottke.org posts about Eunice Foote

Our Missed Head Start on the Climate Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2024

a timeline showing the passage of 120 years between the invention of the Watt steam engine to the discovery of the greenhouse effect and 128 years between the greenhouse discovery and today

In 1896, scientists determined that industrialization was adding CO2 to the atmosphere and quantified how much it would warm the Earth. That date is closer to the start of the Industrial Revolution than to the present day.

If you’re wondering, like I did, about that 1896 date — what about Fourier and Pouillet and Tyndall and Eunice Foote? — the Wikipedia pages on the history of the discovery of the greenhouse effect and the history of climate change science are worth a read.

The warming effect of sunlight on different gases was examined in 1856 by Eunice Newton Foote, who described her experiments using glass tubes exposed to sunlight. The warming effect of the sun was greater for compressed air than for an evacuated tube and greater for moist air than dry air. “Thirdly, the highest effect of the sun’s rays I have found to be in carbonic acid gas.” (carbon dioxide) She continued: “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature; and if, as some suppose, at one period of its history, the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its action, as well as from an increased weight, must have necessarily resulted.”

Foote’s paper went largely unnoticed until it was rediscovered in the last decade. If you’re interested, the best thing I’ve read on the history of climate change is the 7th chapter of Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet.

Three Climate Change Pioneers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2020

From BBC Ideas, the story of three people who pioneered the science of climate change — Eunice Foote, Guy Stewart Callendar, and Charles Keeling — each of whom was under-recognized for their achievements at the time.

In particular, Eunice Foote demonstrated the greenhouse effect all the way back in 1856, but her contribution was lost to time and science until very recently.

Looking back on Earth’s history, Foote explains that “an atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature … at one period of its history the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its own action as well as from increased weight must have necessarily resulted.” Of the gases tested, she concluded that carbonic acid trapped the most heat, having a final temperature of 125 °F. Foote was years ahead of her time. What she described and theorized was the gradual warming of the Earth’s atmosphere — what today we call the greenhouse effect.

(via the morning news)