Overlooked No More: Eunice Foote, Climate Scientist Lost to History

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tags: history of science, womens history, climate, greenhouse effect

Overlooked is a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

In the 1850s, Eunice Foote, an amateur scientist and activist for women’s rights, made a remarkable discovery about greenhouse gases that could have helped form the foundation of modern climate science.

But the scientific paper she published that might have added her name to the pantheon of early climate scientists was quickly forgotten, and she faded into obscurity. There isn’t even a known photograph of her today.

The idea that greenhouse gases warm the planet is anything but new, and anything but unsettled.

Foote’s ingenious and elegant experiment involved two glass cylinders filled with various substances, including moist air and carbon dioxide. She placed a thermometer in each container, then left them in sunlight.

In her 1856 paper about the experiment, “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays,” she wrote that a cylinder with moist air became warmer than one with dry air. A cylinder filled with carbon dioxide warmed even more, and, once removed from the light, “it was many times as long in cooling.”

She then reached a sweeping conclusion: “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature.”


Read entire article at New York Times

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