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How long ago did scientists suspect global warming might occur from greenhouse gas emissions?

Submitted by: Andrea Moritz

The first good description of the greenhouse effect was given well over a century ago by the renowned natural philosopher John Tyndall (1861); while the first extensive calculations of its magnitude were made by Swedish Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius (1896).  Although Arrhenius' work had a thorough mathematical basis, it initially received little recognition.  Subsequent contributions by the American geologist T.C. Chamberlin (1897, 1898, 1899), however, were enthusiastically received; and the carbon dioxide theory of climatic change went on to gain considerable notoriety.  G.S. Callendar, in particular, wrote about the potential effects of anthropogenic CO2 emissions for a period of nearly three decades (Callendar 1938, 1949, 1958, 1961).  Also actively promoting the theory during the latter part of this time period was G.N. Plass (1956a, b, c, 1961).  And giving the theory perhaps its biggest boost of all was the landmark paper of Revelle and Suess (1957), wherein they remarked that mankind had embarked upon a "large-scale geophysical experiment" as a result of the tremendous utilization of fossil fuels by industrialized society.


Arrhenius, S.  1896.  The influence of the carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground.  Philosophical Magazine, Series 5, 41: 237-276.

Callendar, G.S.  1938.  The artificial production of carbon dioxide and its influence on temperature.  Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 64: 223-237.

Callendar, G.S.  1949.  Can carbon dioxide influence climate?  Weather 4: 310-314.

Callendar, G.S.  1958.  On the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Tellus 10: 243-248.

Callendar, G.S.  1961.  Temperature fluctuations and trends over the earth.  Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 87: 1-12.

Chamberlin, T.C.  1897.  A group of hypotheses bearing on climatic changes.  Journal of Geology 5: 653-683.

Chamberlin, T.C.  1898.  The influence of great epochs of limestone formation upon the constitution of the atmosphere.  Journal of Geology 6: 609-621.

Chamberlin, T.C.  1899.  An attempt to frame a working hypothesis of the cause of glacial periods on an atmospheric basis.  Journal of Geology 7: 545-584, 667-685, 751-787.

Plass, G.N.  1956a.  Effect of carbon dioxide variations on climate.  American Journal of Physics 24: 376-387.

Plass, G.N.  1956b.  The influence of the 15-micron carbon dioxide band on the atmospheric infrared cooling rate.  Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 82: 310-324.

Plass, G.N.  1956c.  The carbon dioxide theory of climatic change.  Tellus 8: 140-154.

Plass, G.N.  1961.  The influence of infrared absorptive molecules on the climate.  Annals of the New York Academy of Science 95: 61-71.

Revelle, R. and Suess, H.E.  1957.  Carbon dioxide exchange between atmosphere and ocean and the question of an increase of atmospheric CO2 during the past decades.  Tellus 9: 18-27.

Tyndall, J.  1861.  On the absorption and radiation of heat by gasses and vapours, and on the physical connection of radiation, absorption, and conduction.  Philosophical Magazine, Series 4, 22: 169-194, 273-285.