Eunice Newton Foote: the Woman who Foresaw Global Warming

A short paper titled “Circumstances affecting the Heat of Sun’s rays” appeared in the 1856 edition of the American Journal of Science and Arts. It was only a page and a half long, and had a brief and crisp description of three experiments.

Effect of density

The first one studied how the warming of air by the Sun’s rays was affected by its density. Two identical containers, one with rarefied air and the other with condensed air, were kept side by side in the sun.

The author, Eunice Newton Foote, found that the temperature of the condensed air rose significantly more (to 110 oF) than that of the rarefied air (88 oF).

Effect of humidity

In the second experiment, Foote used one container with humid air and another with dry air and saw that the former became more warm.

Warming of different gases

The final experiment described in the paper compared the warming of different gases as compared to air. Foote noted that a jar filled with carbon dioxide (or “carbonic acid gas” as it was known then) got heated much more than one with common air.

She postulated that a greater proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could cause an increase in temperature, effectively predicting global warming as we know it today.

Unknown until 2010, Celebrated in 2018

Foote’s work was not widely recognised until as recently as 2010, when Ray Sorenson, a retired geologist stumbled upon her paper. Sorenson realised that Foote’s paper preceded by three years the work of John Tyndall, who had been previously credited with recognising the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide.

In 2018, 162 years after her landmark paper, Eunice Newton Foote’s work was commemorated in a symposium at the University of California Santa Barbara. A charming short film titled Eunice was also released in the same year to honour the forgotten scientist.

References

  1. Wikipedia article on Eunice Newton Foote. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eunice_Newton_Foote
  2. New York Times. Overlooked No More: Eunice Foote, Climate Scientist Lost to History.
  3. https://thinkprogress.org/female-climate-scientist-eunice-foote-finally-honored-for-her-contributions-162-years-later-21b3cf08c70b/
  4. American Journal of Science and Arts 1856.

Climate Change is for REAL!!! :(

It’s obvious to anyone who has been in Kerala for the last few days. It’s been unbelievably HOT… Everyone’s finding it hard to cope with. And it’s only the end of February! You hardly feel like doing anything when it’s so hot. The heat saps all your strength.

The climate situation is frightening, to say the least. It is changing right in front of your eyes. I have been keeping a keen eye on the climate for the last few years. I remember, not too many years ago, when I was in fifth or sixth, it would be raining on the 1st of June no matter what, when the school reopened after the summer holidays. But what has happened in the last few years? In 2006, there was heavy rain in the last week of May, and then a very dry June and the monsoon resumed only in July. And then we had extraordinarily heavy rainfall in Monsoon 2007 but again, which started very late. In April 2008 we had over two weeks of downpour which destroyed most of the crops. And this year, again a bizarre monsoon, and very little rainfall.

It seems obvious where we are heading. It’s frightening. The Earth’s atmosphere, and the whole biosphere is an extremely complex system and has a delicate equilibrium. When that’s disturbed, the natural forces act to try to bring it back to equilibrium. What do you say to people who argue that Climate Change is a hoax?

“Sustainable Energy- Without the Hot Air”

We are all aware of anthropogenic (man-made) global warming. Of course, there are skeptics who insist on ignoring the facts and clinging to their belief that man is too puny to affect the environment. I offer my heartfelt sympathy for them- because they will have to change their outlook drastically in the coming years. People who earnestly think that we can go on burning hydrocarbons and consuming energy at the rate we are now, are really in for a shock. At some point, man will live without fossil fuels.

The material available on this topic is often vague and confusing, as they rarely talk about the amount of fossil fuel remaining beneath the surface of the earth, the amount of carbon emitted when you drive a car for 50 km etc. That’s what David Mackay, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of Cambridge says – when we talk about Energy and Climate Change, we need “numbers, not adjectives”.

His book, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air (released under many Creative Commons licenses) is an attempt to understand the present day situation, by using numbers in a sensible manner. The book talks about the trends in the UK, but it is not difficult to extend it to any part of the world. It estimates the average energy consumption of a person, in various forms- driving a car, flying, electricity used by gadgets, energy embodied in the stuff one buys etc., compares it to the possible renewable energy sources that can be tapped(very optimistically) and tries to figure out whether our present lifestyles are sustainable. It is a must read for anyone interested in Climate Change and Energy Crisis.

The podcast of a one hour lecture delivered by him, a condensed form of the book, is also available here. All the facts and figures referred to in the talk are there in the book.

Australia Willing to Fight Climate Change?

Climate Change Minister faces fierce lobbying from fossil fuel companies as she draws up plans to reduce carbon emissions…

…These plans are a new carbon emissions trading scheme, which puts a lid on the amount of pollution Australia can emit, and a national, enforceable target for 20 per cent of Australia’s power to come from renewable energy by 2020…

Read the full article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday…

It is high time that all nations of the world decided to put a restriction on the amount of carbon they emit. With the adverse effects of climate change starting to visibly affect people all over the world- like the untimely rains causing huge loss of rice harvests in Kerala last month- no country can afford to sit back and watch.

It is true that the developed countries are the biggest emitters of carbon, and mostly responsible for this situation, but India and China are not far behind. And it is not a good excuse to say that we are on a path of development, and so we should be allowed to emit so much carbon. We simply can’t afford to follow the path of “development” that US has followed. We need to devise a more eco-friendly mode of “development”.