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1 - Nineteenth-century discoveries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2010

Bert Bolin
Affiliation:
Stockholms Universitet
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Summary

Variations of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide may well change the global climate.

The nineteenth century saw a remarkable development of our knowledge about past climatic variation. The French natural philosopher Joseph Fourier (1824) put forward the idea that the climate on earth was determined by the heat balance between incoming solar radiation (‘light heat’) and outgoing radiation (‘dark heat’) and this idea was further pursued by Claude Pouillet (1837). They both realised that the atmosphere might serve as an absorbing layer for the outgoing radiation to space and that the temperature at the earth's surface might therefore be significantly higher than would otherwise be the case.

At about the same time the Swiss ‘naturalist’, Louis Agassiz (1840) suggested that features in the countryside, such as misplaced boulders, grooved and polished rocks, etc., were indications of glacial movements and that major parts of central Europe, perhaps even northerly latitudes in general, had been glaciated. This revolutionary idea was, of course, not readily accepted by his colleagues, but it stimulated others to search for further evidence. Agassiz's idea found acceptance during the following decades, not least because of his studies in the Great Lakes area in the USA.

The idea that the atmosphere plays an important role in determining the prevailing climate of the earth was further developed in England by John Tyndall (1865). He actually measured the heat absorption of gases, including carbon dioxide and water vapour, and emphasised their importance for the maintenance of the prevailing climate on earth.

Type
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A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change
The Role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
, pp. 3 - 8
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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  • Nineteenth-century discoveries
  • Bert Bolin, Stockholms Universitet
  • Book: A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change
  • Online publication: 03 May 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511721731.002
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  • Nineteenth-century discoveries
  • Bert Bolin, Stockholms Universitet
  • Book: A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change
  • Online publication: 03 May 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511721731.002
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Nineteenth-century discoveries
  • Bert Bolin, Stockholms Universitet
  • Book: A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change
  • Online publication: 03 May 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511721731.002
Available formats
×