History of Climate Science
Source “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart
Second edition (revised and updated 2008)
The History of Modern Climate Science
The Short History:
- 1824 - Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect.
- 1859 - John Tyndall discovered that H2O and CO2 absorb infrared confirming the Fourier greenhouse effect.
- 1896 - Svante Arrhenius proposed human CO2 emissions would prevent earth from entering next ice age (challenged 1906).
- 1950’s Guy Callendar found H2O and CO2 did not overlap all spectra bands, therefore warming from CO2 expected (countered the 1906 objections against Arrhenius).
- 1955 - Hans Suess identified the isotopic signature of industrial based CO2 emissions.
- 1956 - Gilbert Plass calculated adding CO2 would significantly change radiation balance.
- 1957 - Revelle/Suess suggested oceans would absorb less CO2 causing more global warming than predicted.
- 1958/60’s - Charles David Keeling proved CO2 was increasing in the atmosphere.
- 70’s/80’s Suke Manabe and James Hansen began modeling climate projections.
- Current: NCAR, GISS, Hadley, CRU, RSS TLT, UAH, MSU, Glacier Melt, Sea Level Rise, Latitudinal Shift all confirm models.
The (more) Detailed History:
- Level of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) in the atmosphere, as later measured in ancient ice, is about 290 ppm (parts per million). Mean global temperature (1850-1870) is about 13.6°C.
- First Industrial Revolution. Coal, railroads, and land clearing speed up greenhouse gas emission, while better agriculture and sanitation speed up population growth.
- Joseph Fourier calculates that the Earth would be far colder if it lacked an atmosphere. =>Simple models
- Tyndall discovers that some gases block infrared radiation. He suggests that changes in the concentration of the gases could bring climate change. =>Other gases
- Arrhenius publishes first calculation of global warming from human emissions of CO2. =>Simple models
- Chamberlin produces a model for global carbon exchange including feedbacks. =>Simple models
- Second Industrial Revolution. Fertilizers and other chemicals, electricity, and public health further accelerate growth.
- World War I. Governments learn to mobilize and control industrial societies.
- Opening of Texas and Persian Gulf oil fields inaugurates era of cheap energy.
- Global warming trend since late 19th century reported. =>Modern temp's=>Climate cycles
- Milankovitch proposes orbital changes as the cause of ice ages.
- Callendar argues that CO2 greenhouse global warming is underway, reviving interest in the question. =>CO2 greenhouse
- World War II. Grand strategy is largely driven by a struggle to control oil fields.
- US Office of Naval Research begins generous funding of many fields of science, some of which happen to be useful for understanding climate change. =>Government
- Ewing and Donn offer a feedback model for quick ice age onset. =>Simple models
- Phillips produces a somewhat realistic computer model of the global atmosphere. =>Models (GCMs)
- Plass calculates that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will have a significant effect on the radiation balance. =>Radiation math
- Launch of Soviet Sputnik satellite. Cold War concerns support 1957-58 International Geophysical Year, bringing new funding and coordination to climate studies. =>International
- Revelle finds that CO2 produced by humans will not be readily absorbed by the oceans. =>CO2 greenhouse
- Telescope studies show a greenhouse effect raises temperature of the atmosphere of Venus far above the boiling point of water. =>Venus & Mars
- Mitchell reports downturn of global temperatures since the early 1940s.=>Modern temp's
- Keeling accurately measures CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere and detects an annual rise. =>CO2 greenhouse The level is 315 ppm. Mean global temperature (five-year average) is 13.9°C.
- Cuban Missile Crisis, peak of the Cold War.
- Calculations suggest that feedback with water vapor could make the climate acutely sensitive to changes in CO2 level. =>Radiation math
- Boulder, Colo. meeting on causes of climate change: Lorenz and others point out the chaotic nature of climate system and the possibility of sudden shifts. =>Chaos theory
- Emiliani's analysis of deep-sea cores shows the timing of ice ages was set by small orbital shifts, suggesting that the climate system is sensitive to small changes. =>Climate cycles
- International Global Atmospheric Research Program established, mainly to gather data for better short-range weather prediction, but including climate.International
- Manabe and Wetherald make a convincing calculation that doubling CO2 would raise world temperatures a couple of degrees. =>Radiation math
- Studies suggest a possibility of collapse of Antarctic ice sheets, which would raise sea levels catastrophically. =>Sea rise & ice
- Astronauts walk on the Moon, and people perceive the Earth as a fragile whole. =>Public opinion
- Budyko and Sellers present models of catastrophic ice-albedo feedbacks. =>Simple models
- Nimbus III satellite begins to provide comprehensive global atmospheric temperature measurements. =>Government
- First Earth Day. Environmental movement attains strong influence, spreads concern about global degradation. =>Public opinion
- Creation of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the world's leading funder of climate research. =>Government
- Aerosols from human activity are shown to be increasing swiftly. Bryson claims they counteract global warming and may bring serious cooling. =>Aerosols
- SMIC conference of leading scientists reports a danger of rapid and serious global change caused by humans, calls for an organized research effort. =>International
- Mariner 9 spacecraft finds a great dust storm warming the atmosphere of Mars, plus indications of a radically different climate in the past .=>Venus & Mars
- Ice cores and other evidence show big climate shifts in the past between relatively stable modes in the space of a thousand years or so, especially around 11,000 years ago. =>Rapid change
- Oil embargo and price rise bring first "energy crisis". =>Government
- Serious droughts since 1972 increase concern about climate, with cooling from aerosols suspected to be as likely as warming; scientists are doubtful as journalists talk of a new ice age.=>Public opinion
- Warnings about environmental effects of airplanes leads to investigations of trace gases in the stratosphere and discovery of danger to ozone layer. =>Other gases
- Manabe and collaborators produce complex but plausible computer models which show a temperature rise of several degrees for doubled CO2. =>Models (GCMs)
- Studies show that CFCs (1975) and also methane and ozone (1976) can make a serious contribution to the greenhouse effect. =>Other gases
- Deep-sea cores show a dominating influence from 100,000-year Milankovitch orbital changes, emphasizing the role of feedbacks. =>Climate cycles
- Deforestation and other ecosystem changes are recognized as major factors in the future of the climate. =>Biosphere
- Eddy shows that there were prolonged periods without sunspots in past centuries, corresponding to cold periods .=>Solar variation
- Scientific opinion tends to converge on global warming, not cooling, as the chief climate risk in next century. =>Public opinion
- Attempts to coordinate climate research in US end with an inadequate National Climate Program Act, accompanied by rapid but temporary growth in funding. =>Government
- Second oil "energy crisis." Strengthened environmental movement encourages renewable energy sources, inhibits nuclear energy growth. =>Public opinion
- US National Academy of Sciences report finds it highly credible that doubling CO2 will bring 1.5-4.5°C global warming. =>Models (GCMs)
- World Climate Research Programme launched to coordinate international research. =>International
- Election of Reagan brings backlash against environmental movement to power. Political conservatism is linked to skepticism about global warming. =>Government
- IBM Personal Computer introduced. Advanced economies are increasingly delinked from energy.
- Hansen and others show that sulfate aerosols can significantly cool the climate, raising confidence in models showing future greenhouse warming. =>Aerosols
- Some scientists predict greenhouse warming "signal" should be visible by about the year 2000. =>Modern temp's
- Greenland ice cores reveal drastic temperature oscillations in the space of a century in the distant past. =>Rapid change
- Strong global warming since mid-1970s is reported, with 1981 the warmest year on record. =>Modern temp's
- Reports from US National Academy of Sciences and Environmental Protection Agency spark conflict, as greenhouse warming becomes prominent in mainstream politics. =>Government
- Ramanathan and collaborators announce that global warming may come twice as fast as expected, from rise of methane and other trace greenhouse gases.=>Other gases
- Villach Conference declares consensus among experts that some global warming seems inevitable, calls on governments to consider international agreements to restrict emissions.=>International
- Antarctic ice cores show that CO2 and temperature went up and down together through past ice ages, pointing to powerful biological and geochemical feedbacks. =>CO2
- Broecker speculates that a reorganization of North Atlantic Ocean circulation can bring swift and radical climate change. =>The oceans
- Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention imposes international restrictions on emission of ozone-destroying gases. =>International
- News media coverage of global warming leaps upward following record heat and droughts plus testimony by Hansen. =>Public opinion
- Toronto conference calls for strict, specific limits on greenhouse gas emissions; UK Prime Minister Thatcher is first major leader to call for action. =>International
- Ice-core and biology studies confirm living ecosystems give climate feedback by way of methane, which could accelerate global warming. =>Other gases
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is established. =>International
- Level of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 350 ppm.
- Fossil-fuel and other U.S. industries form Global Climate Coalition to tell politicians and the public that climate science is too uncertain to justify action. =>Public opinion
- First IPCC report says world has been warming and future warming seems likely. =>International
- Mt. Pinatubo explodes; Hansen predicts cooling pattern, verifying (by 1995) computer models of aerosol effects. =>Aerosols
- Global warming skeptics claim that 20th-century temperature changes followed from solar influences. (The solar-climate correlation would fail in the following decade.) =>Solar variation
- Studies from 55 million years ago show possibility of eruption of methane from the seabed with enormous self-sustained warming. =>Rapid change
- Conference in Rio de Janeiro produces UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but US blocks calls for serious action. =>International
- Study of ancient climates reveals climate sensitivity in same range as predicted independently by computer models. =>Models (GCMs)
- Greenland ice cores suggest that great climate changes (at least on a regional scale) can occur in the space of a single decade. =>Rapid change
- Second IPCC report detects "signature" of human-caused greenhouse effect warming, declares that serious warming is likely in the coming century. =>International
- Reports of the breaking up of Antarctic ice shelves and other signs of actual current warming in polar regions begin affecting public opinion. =>Public opinion
- Toyota introduces Prius in Japan, first mass-market electric hybrid car; swift progress in large wind turbines and other energy alternatives.
- International conference produces Kyoto Protocol, setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if enough nations sign onto a treaty. =>International
- "Super El Niño" causes weather disasters and warmest year on record (approximately matched by 2005 and 2007). Borehole data confirm extraordinary warming trend. =>Modern temp's
- Qualms about arbitrariness in computer models diminish as teams model ice-age climate and dispense with special adjustments to reproduce current climate. =>Models (GCMs)
- Criticism that satellite measurements show no warming are dismissed by National Academy Panel. =>Modern temp's
- Ramanathan detects massive "brown cloud" of aerosols from South Asia. =>Aerosols
- Global Climate Coalition dissolves as many corporations grapple with threat of warming, but oil lobby convinces US administration to deny problem. =>Public opinion
- Variety of studies emphasize variability and importance of biological feedbacks in carbon cycle, liable to accelerate warming. =>Biosphere
- Third IPCC report states baldly that global warming, unprecedented since end of last ice age, is "very likely," with possible severe surprises. Effective end of debate among all but a few scientists. =>International
- Bonn meeting, with participation of most countries but not US, develops mechanisms for working towards Kyoto targets. =>International
- National Academy panel sees a "paradigm shift" in scientific recognition of the risk of abrupt climate change (decade-scale). =>Rapid change
- Warming observed in ocean basins; match with computer models gives a clear signature of greenhouse effect warming. =>Models (GCMs)
- Studies find surprisingly strong "global dimming," due to pollution, has retarded arrival of greenhouse warming, but dimming is now decreasing. =>Aerosols
- Numerous observations raise concern that collapse of ice sheets (West Antarctica, Greenland) can raise sea levels faster than most had believed. =>Sea rise & ice
- Deadly summer heat wave in Europe accelerates divergence between European and US public opinion. =>Public opinion
- In controversy over temperature data covering past millenium, most conclude climate variations were not comparable to the post-1980 warming.
=>Modern temp's; =>Solar variation
- First major books, movie and art work featuring global warming appear. =>Public opinion
- Kyoto treaty goes into effect, signed by major industrial nations except US. Work to retard emissions accelerates in Japan, Western Europe, US regional governments and corporations. =>International
- Hurricane Katrina and other major tropical storms spur debate over impact of global warming on storm intensity.
- Level of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 380 ppm.
- Fourth IPCC report warns that serious effects of warming have become evident; cost of reducing emissions would be far less than the damage they will cause. =>International
- Many experts warn that global warming is arriving at a faster and more dangerous pace than anticipated just a few years earlier. =>International
- Level of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 385 ppm.
- Mean global temperature (five-year average) is 14.5°C, the warmest in hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
Source “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart