Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: history of climate change

Climate Histories: The Restless Sphere – IGY and the beginning of the race to space

…to observe geophysical phenomena and to secure data from all parts of the world; to conduct this effort on a coordinated basis by fields, and in space and time, so that results could be collated in a meaningful manner. [1]

In the early 1950s, the American physicist and engineer Lloyd Berkner started to investigate the development of the Earth’s atmosphere but the lack of available data limited his research. He felt that fundamental questions about global-scale environmental processes would remain unsolved unless opportunities are created to collect data on a worldwide basis.[2]

Berkner, a man of great energy, decided to create these opportunities. With several colleagues, he proposed, in 1950, an international geophysical programme modelled on the International Polar Years of 1882-1883 and 1932-1933.  He envisaged a large-scale global programme of intergovernmental cooperation in scientific research, that would allow scientists from around the world to take part in a series of coordinated observations of various geophysical phenomena.

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Climate Histories: Glen T. Trewartha and “the so-called greenhouse effect of the earth’s atmosphere”

It is mid-thirties, and the United States is in the middle of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The drought that has struck Texas and Oklahoma is wreaking havoc in the American prairies. Lacking the strong root system of grass, the winds easily pick the loose topsoil and swirl it into dense dust clouds, known as the black blizzards. The dust chokes thousands of cattle and drives 60 percent of the population, later they called them exodusters, first in the cities, and later in the agricultural regions in the Far West.

At the same time at the University of Wisconsin, the geographer Glen Thomas Trewartha keeps himself busy investigating the weather and the climate elements, such as temperature, precipitation, and storms and their relative significance in contributing to an understanding of regional climates.

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315! The Carbon Dioxide Number

In the 1955, the chemist Charles Keeling performed a simple experiment. He measured the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) at the air around Pasadena, California. This experiment will take him, in the next few years, in several places, in the west coast in the United States and Central America. He collected air samples every four hours, twenty-four hours a day. Measuring his samples back to his laboratory at Cal Tech, Keeling made a fascinating discovery.  No matter where he had collected his samples, forests, cities,  e.t.c, those gathered near midday yielded a nearly constant atmospheric CO2 concentration, about 315 parts per million (p.p.m.). As Keeling’s measurements have started to attract some attention, Harry Wexler, a visionary scientist of the Weather Bureau, the precursor agency of NOAA, invited him in Washington D.C. to discuss how stable the number 315 might be and whether it was as universal as Keeling believed.

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Climate Histories: The emergence of the first interdisciplinary research programme in global climate

In the mid-1970s the evidence about the greenhouse effect and its effect to climate change was growing among the scientific community. Data showed a steady increase of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere during the twentieth century at a rate of 25 times the historical average. Scientists, influenced by the work of Callendar, Revelle, Suess and Keeling have started to wonder if the worming trend which was occurring in the twentieth century was indeed, due to industrial emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2.  At the same time, they discovered that the biological productivity of the oceans was an important regulator of the way the CO2 built up in the atmosphere, and that the water vapour which had been found to be an important factor in the formation of clouds, could also play a role in the modulation of weather and climate. And as the questions multiplied, scientists were starting to realise that only an interdisciplinary research programme could provide the much needed answers.

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