American scientist Eunice Foote predicts the warming impact of “carbonic acid” (carbon dioxide) on the atmosphere.
Foote describes an experiment where she filled separate glass jars with water vapor, carbon dioxide, and air and then measured how they heated up in the sun: “The highest effect of the sun’s rays I have found to be in the carbonic acid glass… The receiver containing the gas became itself much heated — very sensibly more so than the other — and on being removed, it was many times as long in cooling.” Foote goes on to consider what this might mean for our atmosphere: “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature,” she wrote, “and if as some suppose, at one period of its history the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its own action as well as from increased weight must have necessarily resulted.” These findings are presented in a paper titled “Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun’s rays” on August 23, 1856 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Foote was able to have her paper presented because her husband, Elisha Foote, was a member of the organization. As reported in ThinkProgress, “She did not present her own work, however. Instead, Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institute, spoke on her behalf. In acknowledging that it was Foote’s work, Henry introduced the findings by stating, ‘Science was of no country and of no sex. The sphere of woman embraces not only the beautiful and the useful, but the true.’” As Texas Tech climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe told ThinkProgress, due to the rudimentary set-up of the experiment, Foote “wasn’t measuring what she thought she was measuring, but she actually serendipitously ended up with an understanding that is correct today… She very presciently speculated that the temperature of the planet would be higher if CO2 were higher and as far as I know she was the first person to speculate that.” Hayhoe noted that she didn’t have enough information to be able to say whether John Tyndall [see 1861] was aware of Foote’s work when he published his better known work five years later.*
*Kyla Mandel, “This woman fundamentally changed climate science — and you’ve probably never heard of her,” ThinkProgress, May 18, 2018, https://thinkprogress.org/