AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

Papers on climate science history

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on November 4, 2010

This is a list of papers on the history of climate science. The list is not complete, and will most likely be updated in the future in order to make it more thorough and more representative.

UPDATE (July 12, 2012): Mudge (1997) added. Thanks to Francis Mudge for pointing it out (in another thread).
UPDATE (May 6, 2012): Barry (2012) added.

A brief history of the terms climate and climatology – Barry (2012) “The paper traces the origins of the terms climate and climatology in the English language. The term climate has a 600-year history, but only came into widespread scientific use about 150 years ago. Climatology began to find wide usage in the mid-late 19th century.” Roger G. Barry, International Journal of Climatology, DOI: 10.1002/joc.3504.

Linking energy and climate (before 1974) – Shulman (2010) “Establishing a link between the consumption of fossil fuels and global climate change has depended both on scientific research as well as assumptions about the pace of social change, technological innovation, and economic growth. Late 19th century research into the role of carbon dioxide and climate focused on explaining the historical cooling of the ice ages; consideration of future warming as a result of energy use remained theoretical and focused on benefits centuries away. After declining scientific interest in the carbon dioxide theory in the early 20th century, it was revived again in the late 1930s, gradually stimulating further research that led to a more sophisticated understanding of the global carbon cycle and prospects for future warming. This research began incorporating more realistic expectations of future energy growth. In the early 1970s, scientists, politicians, and the general public began paying more attention to research into anthropogenic climate change, in part due to a renewed attention to the social costs of energy systems alongside a growing focus on global environmental issues. Future historical research into energy and climate change should examine the role of predictions and expectations of social change in shaping the agenda of scientific research.” Peter A. Shulman, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2010, DOI: 10.1002/wcc.78. [Full text]

History of climate engineering – Bonnheim (2010) “The modern concept of geoengineering as a response to anthropogenic climate change evolved from much earlier proposals to modify the climate. The well-documented history of weather modification provides a much-needed historical perspective on geoengineering in the face of current climate anxiety and the need for responsive action. Drawing on material from the mid-20th century until today, this paper asserts the importance of looking at geoengineering holistically—of integrating social considerations with technical promise, and scientific study with human and moral dimensions. While the debate is often couched in scientific terms, the consequences of geoengineering the climate stretch far beyond the world of science into the realms of ethics, legality, and society. Studying the history of geoengineering can help produce fresh insights about what has happened and about what may happen, and can help frame important decisions that will soon be made as to whether geoengineering is a feasible alternative to mitigation, a possible partner, or a dangerous experiment with our fragile planet.” Noah Byron Bonnheim, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 2010, DOI: 10.1002/wcc.82. [Full text]

The evolution of climate ideas and knowledge – Heymann (2010) “Ideas and knowledge about climate have changed considerably in history. Ancient philosophers like Hippocrates and Aristotle shaped the understandings of climate, which remained very influential until well into the eighteenth century. The Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century gave rise to new ways of systematic instrument-based observation of and increased public interest in weather and climate. These developments led to a mechanistic understanding and a reductionist physical description of climate in the twentieth century, eventually in the form of a complex earth system. Furthermore, different understandings of climate co-existed in many periods of time. Only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries specific scientific concepts of climate (a geographical understanding of climate in climatology until about the mid-twentieth century and a physical understanding of climate in climate science in the second half of the twentieth century) gained superior social credibility and cultural dominance. The understanding of climate involved more than the accumulation of scientific knowledge. It was rooted in social processes and cultural interests, which shaped different ideas of climate in different communities of actors and different historical times.” [Full text]

Suomi: Pragmatic Visionary – Lewis et al. (2010) “The steps on Verner Suomi’s path to becoming a research scientist are examined. We argue that his research style—his natural interests in science and engineering, and his methodology in pursuing answers to scientific questions—was developed in his youth on the Iron Range of northeastern Minnesota, as an instructor in the cadet program at the University of Chicago (U of C) during World War II and as a fledgling academician at University of Wisconsin—Madison. We examine several of his early experiments that serve to identify his style. The principal results of this study are 1) despite austere living conditions on the Iron Range during the Great Depression, Suomi benefited from excellent industrial arts courses at Eveleth High School; 2) with his gift for designing instruments, his more practical approach to scientific investigation flourished in the company of world-class scientific thinkers at U of C; 3) his dissertation on the heat budget over a cornfield in the mid-1950s served as a springboard for studying the Earth–atmosphere energy balances in the space-age environment of the late 1950s; and 4) his design of radiometers—the so-called ping-pong radiometer and its sequel, the hemispheric bolometer—flew aboard Explorer VI and Explorer VII in the late 1950s, and analysis of the radiances from these instruments led to the first accurate estimate of the Earth’s mean albedo.” Lewis, John M., David W. Martin, Robert M. Rabin, Hans Moosmüller, 2010: Suomi: Pragmatic Visionary. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 91, 559-577, doi: 10.1175/2009BAMS2897.1. [Full text]

The idea of anthropogenic global climate change in the 20th century – Weart (2010) “People had long speculated that human activities might affect a region’s climate. But a developed conjecture that humanity might change the climate of the entire planet first appeared in 1896: a calculation that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion could gradually warm the globe. Scientists soon rejected the idea. Most people thought it incredible that climate could change globally except on a geological timescale, pushed by forces far stronger than human activity. In midcentury, a few scientists revived the hypothesis of global warming. Meanwhile, the exponential growth of human activity, especially chemical pollution and nuclear armaments, was showing that humanity really could affect the entire atmosphere. Moreover, during the 1960s research suggested that small perturbations might lead to an abrupt change in the climate system. Although nobody expected serious impacts until the distant 21st century, some began to frame global warming not just as a scientific puzzle but as an environmental risk, a security risk, a practical policy question, an international relations issue, and even a moral problem. In the late 1970s a scientific consensus began to take shape, culminating around the end of the century in unanimous agreement among government representatives on essential points, although many uncertainties remained. Meanwhile, increasing media warnings of peril made most of the literate world public aware of the issue, which had deep implications for the human relationship with nature. Skepticism persisted, correlated with aversion to regulation. The majority of the world public were now concerned, but disinclined to take action.” [Full text]

Money for Keeling: Monitoring CO2 levels – Weart (2007) “C.D. Keeling’s measurements of the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since 1957, tracking a rise that threatens global warming, form one of the most important scienti.c data sets ever created. Yet the relatively small funding Keeling required was rarely secure. He could begin his measurements only because of a one-time injection of funds into geophysics during the International Geophysical Year. The original aim was to take a “snapshot” which could be repeated a few decades later to .nd whether the level of the gas had risen as predicted. Keeling and his sponsors made personal appeals to divert additional funds so he could and extend his measurements; in consequence, with just two years of data he showed that the level was rising. In the following decades, maintaining fund-ing was problematic. Agencies saw the work as “routine monitoring” rather than cutting-edge research. In the 1970s, the rise of an environmental movement helped reframe climate change and CO2 emissions as a threat. Funding expanded within a context of monitoring atmospheric pollution and government agency empire building. But in the early 1980s, political reaction against environmentalism again threatened Keeling’s program. The story re.ects larger trends over the past half-century towards the bureaucratization and politicization of science funding.” Spencer R. Weart, Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, March 2007, Vol. 37, No. 2, Pages 435–452, DOI 10.1525/hsps.2007.37.2.435. [Full text]

Guy Stewart Callendar: A Pioneer of Anthropogenic Climate Change Theory – Graßl (2007) “Already in 1938, Guy Stewart Callendar had established the carbon dioxide theory of anthropogenic climate change. In The Callendar effect, James R. Fleming tells his story. But why did it take decades until the rest of the scientific community and the public were convinced of his findings?” [Full text]

The pathological history of weather and climate modification: Three cycles of promise and hype – Fleming (2006) “The checkered history of weather and climate modification exhibits a modicum of promise and an excess of hype. This paper examines two completed historical cycles: the first, dating from 1839, involved western proprietary rainmaking or “pluviculture;” the second, from 1946 to 1978 involved “cloud seeding,” commercial rainmaking, and the attempted weaponization of the clouds. Recently, discussion of weather and climate modification has returned to the science-policy agenda, framed as seemingly inevitable responses to killer storms and global warming. The long history of deceptive and delusional attempts to “control” nature, however, raised serious questions about the rationality of these options.” James Rodger Fleming, The pathological history of weather and climate modification: Three cycles of promise and hype, Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, September 2006, Vol. 37, No. 1, Pages 3–25 , DOI 10.1525/hsps.2006.37.1.3. [Full text]

The Discovery of Rapid Climate Change – Weart (2003) “How fast can our planet’s climate change? Too slowly for humans to notice, according to the firm belief of most scientists through much of the 20th century. Any shift of weather patterns, even the Dust Bowl droughts that devastated the Great Plains in the 1930s, was seen as a temporary local excursion. To be sure, the entire world climate could change radically: The ice ages proved that. But common sense held that such transformations could only creep in over tens of thousands of years.” Spencer Weart, Physics Today, Volume 56, Issue 8, August 2003. [Full text]

The carbon dioxide theory of climate change: emergence, eclipse, and reemergence, ca. 1850–1950 – Fleming (2002) “This paper examines the discovery of the carbon dioxide theory of climate change, its eclipse during the first five decades of the twentieth century, and its reemergence in the work of G.S. Callendar. It provides historical perspectives on the study of climate dynamics (C/t) from the perspective of science dynamics (S/t). In the nineteenth century, the work of John Tyndall, Svante Arrhenius, T.C. Chamberlin and others drew scientific attention to the role of carbon dioxide as a possible mechanism of climate change. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, however, most scientists did not think that increased carbon dioxide levels would result in climate warming. Spectroscopic work by Knut Ångström, Clemens Schaefer, and others led meteorologists to believe that water vapor was controlling the infra-red heat budget and that doubling or halving the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would not appreciably affect the amount of radiation actually absorbed by it. Most meteorologists gave other mechanisms of climatic change more credence. Beginning in 1938 Guy Steward Callendar began a revival of the carbon dioxide theory of climate change and placed it on a more solid scientific basis. Callendar based his theory on new detailed measurements of the infrared spectrum, rising fossil fuel emissions, and the warming trend recorded in the Northern Hemisphere from about 1900 to 1950. Hans Seuss and Roger Revelle later named the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by industrial fuel combustion the “Callendar effect.” The CO2 theory of climate change has changed dramatically on timescales of decades to centuries (eg. 1850 to 2000). Since climate ideas (in relation to changes in technology, and social organization of science) can change faster than the climate itself, they are worthy of serious historical study. Clearly, a student of climate dynamics must also be a student of science dynamics.” Fleming, James R., 2002, “The carbon dioxide theory of climate change: emergence, eclipse, and reemergence, ca. 1850–1950″, 13th Symposium on Global Change and Climate Variations, AMS. [Full text]

T. C. Chamberlin, Climate Change, and Cosmogony – Fleming (2000) “This paper examines the life and work of T. C. Chamberlin, a prominent glacial geologist who developed an interest in interdisciplinary earth science. His work on the geological agency of the atmosphere informed his understanding of climate change and other terrestrial phenomena and led him to propose a new theory of the formation of the Earth and the solar system. Chamberlin’s graduate seminar at the University of Chicago in 1896 contained all the themes that informed his research programme over the next three decades. These included the carbon dioxide theory of climate change in its relationship to diastrophism and oceanic circulation, the role of water vapour feedbacks in the climate system, and the relationship between multiple glaciations, the climate system, and the formation of the planet.” James R. Fleming, Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies In History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, Volume 31, Issue 3, September 2000, Pages 293-308, doi:10.1016/S1355-2198(00)00015-0.

Joseph Fourier, the ‘greenhouse effect’, and the quest for a universal theory of terrestrial temperatures – Fleming (1999) “The central role that the theory of terrestrial temperatures played in Fourier’s mathematical physics has not received the attention it deserves from historians, although his cryptic allusions to the heating of a greenhouse, taken out of context, have been widely cited by subsequent authors.” James R. Fleming, Endeavour, Volume 23, Issue 2, 1999, Pages 72-75, doi:10.1016/S0160-9327(99)01210-7.

Arrhenius and current climate concerns: continuity or a 100-year gap? – Fleming (1998) Fleming, J. R. (1998), Arrhenius and current climate concerns: continuity or a 100-year gap?, Eos Trans. AGU, 79(34), 405.

Charles Lyell and climatic change: speculation and certainty – Fleming (1998) “In the first edition of the Principles of Geology, Charles Lyell announced his theory of the geographical determination of climate and speculated on possible climatic changes during the geological and historical past. In light of the subsequent discovery of ice ages, the proliferation of theories of climatic change, and the great climate debates of his time. Lyell’s theory remained remarkably stable. This paper examines Lyell’s appropriation, modification and rejection of the views of his contemporaries. It provides perspectives on elite and popular ideas of climate and climatic change from the late eighteenth century to 1875, examines Lyell’s position on climatic change in geological and historical times, and explores in some detail the mutual influences of Lyell and James Croll, the proponent of an astronomical theory of ice ages.” James Rodger Fleming, Geological Society, London, Special Publications; 1998; v. 143; p. 161-169, DOI: 10.1144/GSL.SP.1998.143.01.14. [Full text]

The development of the ‘greenhouse’ theory of global climate change from Victorian times – Mudge (1997) No abstract. Quote from the beginning of the article: “The greenhouse effect, perhaps the most popular current vehicle of ‘environmentalism’, was at the centre of active scientific debate in late Victorian times. This article examines the development of the Victorian notion of the greenhouse effect, and why it fell out of favour until just before the Second World War.” F. B. Mudge, Weather, Volume 52, Issue 1, pages 13–17, January 1997, DOI: 10.1002/j.1477-8696.1997.tb06243.x. [Full text]

Early Development in the Study of Greenhouse Warming: The Emergence of Climate Models – Manabe (1997) “Following the pioneering contributions of Arrhenius, Callendar and others, climate models emerged as a very promising tool for the study of greenhouse warming. In the early 1960s, a one-dimensional, radiative-convective equilibrium model was developed as the first step towards the development of a three-dimensional model of climate. Incorporating not only the radiative but also the convective heat exchange between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere, the model overcame the difficulty encountered by the earlier approach of surface radiative heat balance in estimating the magnitude of greenhouse warming. By the 1970s, a three-dimensional, general circulation model (GCM) of the atmosphere, coupled to a very idealized ocean of swamp-like wet surface, had been used for studies of greenhouse warming. Despite many drastic simplifications, the GCM was very effective for elucidating the physical mechanisms that control global warming and served as a stepping stone towards the use of more comprehensive, coupled ocean-atmosphere GCMs for the study of this problem.” Syukuro Manabe, Ambio, Vol. 26, No. 1, Arrhenius and the Greenhouse Gases (Feb., 1997), pp. 47-51. [Full text]

The Discovery of the Risk of Global Warming – Weart (1997) “It is now a century since Syante Arrhenius published the idea: As human activity puts ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, global warming becomes ever more likely. (See figure 1 and the box on page 36.) His paper attracted notice, and one might suppose that knowledge of the so-called “greenhouse effect” has grown steadily ever since. But that is not in fact how the science proceeded. During more than half a century after 1896 almost nothing of value was learned about global warming. Only in the late 1950s did scientists at last begin to regard it as a serious possibility, indeed a potential danger.” Spencer R. Weart, Physics Today, Volume 50, Issue 1, January 1997.

Climate and history in the late 18th and early 19th centuries – Feldman (1992) Feldman, T. S. (1992), Climate and history in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Eos Trans. AGU, 73(1), 1.

T. C. Chamberlain and H2O climate feedbacks: A voice from the past – Fleming (1992) Fleming, J. R. (1992), T. C. Chamberlain and H2O climate feedbacks: A voice from the past, Eos Trans. AGU, 73(47), 505.

History of the greenhouse effect – Jones (1990) “The greenhouse effect is now commonly accepted by the scientific community, politicians and the general public. However, the misnomer ‘greenhouse effect’ has perpetuated, and there are a number of aspects of the effect which are poorly understood outside the atmospheric sciences. On such misconception is that greenhouse research is a recent phenomenon; another is that glasshouses are warmed by the same mechanism as lies at the heart of the greenhouse effect. This review traces the theory as far back as 1827, highlighting new directions and significant advances over that time. Four main themes can be discerned: 1) certain radiatively active gases are responsible for warming the planet ; 2) that humans can inadvertently influence this warming; 3) climate models are designed to permit prediction of the climatic changes in the atmospheric loadings of these gases but that they have not yet achieved this goal of prediction; and 4) many scenarios of changes, and especially of impact, are premised on relatively weak analysis. This latter point is illustrated by an examination of the relationship between increasing temperature and sea level change (the oceanic response to atmospheric warming). Current research suggests that sea-level rise is not likely to be as high as had previously been anticipated.” M.D.H. Jones, Progress in Physical Geography March 1990 vol. 14 no. 1 1-18, doi: 10.1177/030913339001400101.

Closely related

Challenging Knowledge: How Climate Science Became a Victim of the Cold War – Oreskes & Conway (2010) [Full text]

The Discovery of Global Warming – Weart (2009) [Full text]


4 Responses to “Papers on climate science history”

  1. Ari Jokimäki said

    I added Barry (2012).

  2. francis mudge said

    Roger Fleming’s 2002 paper (in your list above) has the possible misfortune to start in 1850; I say this because, to the best of my knowledge, the very earliest work that identified Carbon Dioxide as the component of the atmosphere that changes the thermal behaviour of the atmosphere is Harkness (1843) – although he doesn’t get the mechanism correct. I can supply you with a copy of the paper if you wish (it was not easy to find it.)

  3. francis mudge said

    Apologies to James R Fleming – I posted a draft message earlier, with his name incorrectly spelled!

  4. Ari Jokimäki said

    Yes, I’m interested in the copy of that paper. You can find my e-mail address in the ‘about’ page.

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