Eunice Foote, the first scientist (and suffragist) to theorize climate change.
In 1859, Irish physicist John Tyndall first discovered that gas molecules such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor (known today as greenhouse gases or greenhouse gases) block infrared radiation. He is considered the first scientist to predict the effect of small changes in atmospheric composition on climate. At least that’s how it’s taught in science faculties around the world.
Modern researchers ignore the work of Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888), taking nothing away from the research of Tyndall or the Swedish Nobel laureate Stephen Arrhenius, who was later credited with the discovery of the greenhouse effect. According to an account by Leila McNeill Smithsonianthis scientist performed his experiments in 1856, three years before Tyndall presented his results, and forty years before Arrhenius published his results.
This American is the first scientist to show that there are even moderate increases in carbon dioxide (CO) concentrations.2) can cause significant global warming in the atmosphere.
Since then, this relationship CO2 and climate has become one of the main principles of modern meteorology, greenhouse effect and climate science. However, no one recognized that Foote was the first to discover this – in addition to being one of the founders of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first assembly to discuss women’s rights.
It has been forgotten for over 150 years
According to McNeill, hundreds of scientists, inventors, and hobbyists gathered in Albany, New York on the morning of August 23, 1856, for the 8th.e The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – these conferences bring together American scientists to share new discoveries, discuss advances in their fields, and explore new areas of research. Never before had so many participants been expected at the meeting.
However, no studies of particular interest were presented there…except for one report, whose scientific significance was overlooked until it was plucked from oblivion by Raymond P. Sorenson in 2010.
However, the research in question was justified Conditions affecting the heat of the sun’s rays– to everyone’s surprise – a woman named Eunice N. Foote signed it.
At that time, women were not allowed to submit papers to the AAAS, so it was Professor Joseph Henry of the United States. Smithsonian Institution, who presented the work. Neither Foote’s paper nor Henry’s presentation was recorded in the conference proceedings. In November 1856American Journal of Arts and SciencesThe AAAS journal published only one and a half pages on the subject.
In the 1857 volumeAnnual of Scientific Discovery, journalist David A. Wells publishes a summary of the piece. He writes about this annual meeting:
“Professor Henry then read Mrs. Eunice Foote’s paper and prefaced the paper with a few words, saying, “Science is neither country nor sex. The woman’s sphere includes not only the beautiful and the useful, but also the real.” »
In the September 1956 edition Scientific Americantitled Scientific Ladiesone column praises Foote for putting his beliefs into action:
“Some have not only held, but even expressed, the disastrous idea that women do not have the mental strength necessary for scientific research. […] Mrs. Foote’s experiences amply prove the ability of women to study any subject with originality and precision. »
Foote’s pioneering practice was ingeniously “local.” Using four thermometers, two glass cylinders, and a vacuum pump, he isolated the gases that make up the atmosphere and exposed them to sunlight, both in direct sunlight and in the shade. .
By measuring their temperature changes, he discovered that CO2 and water vapor absorbs enough heat to affect climate:
“CO atmosphere2 It will increase the temperature of our earth; and if, as some have supposed, the air was mixed with CO at some point in its history2 in a greater proportion than at present […] this must necessarily result in higher temperatures. »
At that time, Foote was years ahead of the science of his time. What he described and theorized was nothing more than the gradual warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, now called the greenhouse effect.
He did this three years before John Tyndall, whose more sophisticated experiments demonstrated conclusively that the Earth’s greenhouse effect is caused by water vapor and other gases such as CO.2, which absorbs and emits thermal infrared energy. Tyndall did not mention Foote in his post. It is not clear if he is familiar with his work or if he considers it irrelevant.
According to Roland Jackson, it is likely that he did not know about Foote’s work.
“During the 1850s, direct scientific contact between the two sides of the Atlantic was rare, and because American scientific institutions had relatively little weight in Europe, personal relationships were of particular importance.”
Hardly a passionate American scholar living near Albany in the mid-nineteenth centurye century, therefore, he had relations with influential foreign researchers. And this, despite Foote’s upbringing, is eccentric for his time. According to John Perlin, who campaigned for years to restore Foote to the history of science:
“As a teenager, Foote attended Troy Female Seminary, where students were invited to science lectures, a school that later became Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded by ex-president Amos Eaton, who was sentenced to life in prison. After 4 years to continue his work as an apostle of scientific education. »
Eaton was convinced that men and women should have equal access to science education: a wild idea in the early 19th century.e. To accomplish her goal, she relied on Emma Hart Willard, the founding teacher of Troy Female Seminary, an educator and activist who developed the first science curriculum for women. Eaton also designed the world’s first female-only chemistry labs at both institutions. It was there that Yunis developed his skills in experimental science.
For a woman as active in the women’s rights movement as Eunice Foote, it must not have been pleasant to be left out of the presentation of her discovery. Road to Seneca Falls Judith Wellman shows that Foote signed the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and was appointed to edit the Convention’s documents for publication, along with prominent activist and abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Like many other scientists forgotten by history, her fate illustrates the forms of discrimination that kept women in the backroom of science for so long.
Foote’s work on greenhouse gases does not replace the work of Tyndall, who had a fully equipped laboratory and whose findings were more relevant to current science as a whole. But including his 1856 study in the history of climate science is also a way to remember that the way we understand human interaction with the atmosphere is the result of more than a century and a half of effort.
And it was a woman who opened the way.