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Nov. 02, 2011

How long has climate change been studied?

by Neil Wagner

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Rob asks:
One reason I’m skeptical about global warming is that it hasn’t been studied for very long. I know scientists in the 1970s were worried about an ice age instead of global warming. Did they start studying global warming in the 80′s??
 
Answer:
Actually, Rob, while some scientists in the 1970s studied the possibility of another ice age, the vast majority were concerned about global warming, as we’ve discussed before.
 
The infancy of climate science can actually be traced back to the early 1800′s and made some nice progress by the end of that century. That means its study predates manned flight (1903), and the discoveries of penicillin (1928) and of Neptune (1846). There wasn’t much happening at the beginning of the 20th century, but things got back into gear in the 1930s. Below are some paraphrased portions of a climate change timeline that can be found at Spencer Weart’s informative ‘The Discovery of Global Warming” site. I’ll give you a look at some of the big developments before the ’70s ice age era. Hope that helps.
 
1824
Joseph Fourier calculated the Earth would be colder without an atmosphere.
 
1859
John Tyndall discovers some gases block infrared radiation, and proposes changes in their concentration could bring climate change.
 
1896
Svante Arrhenius first calculates global warming from human-produced CO2 emissions.
 
1897
Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin produces a global carbon exchange model including feedbacks.
 
1938
Guy Stewart Callendar says CO2 greenhouse global warming is happening.
 
1956
Gilbert Plass says adding CO2 to the atmosphere has a major effect on the radiation balance.
 
1957
Roger Revelle finds that CO2 produced by humans will not be readily absorbed by the oceans.
 
1958
Venus’ greenhouse effect (which raises the atmosphere’s temperature above the boiling point of water) is observed by telescope.
 
1960
Charles Keeling detects an annual rise in the Earth’s atmospheric CO2.
 
1968
Studies say Antarctic ice sheets may collapse, which would raise sea levels big time.
 
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About Neil Wagner

Neil Wagner's What on Earth? comic strip uses humor to discuss global warming.

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