Atmospheric Warming

Eunice Newton Foote was one of 12 children born to her parents Thirza and Isaac. Her father was a distant relative of THE Isaac Newton. She had a strong interest in science. She also had a strong interest in painting. She never attended college.

She used her science interests to study the influence of sun rays on a variety of gases. She tried to identify the effects on hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and air. She found that carbon dioxide trapped the most heat. She also found that it took longer for cooling when the sun was removed. She postulated that a greater level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase the temperature of the Earth. The year was 1856.

She prepared a paper to be delivered at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). While women were in principle allowed to present papers at AAAS meetings, she asked a male colleague to present her paper. After the conference was over, the paper did receive some attention.

Three years after her paper was published and discussed, another researcher, John Tyndall, published a paper on the effect of carbon dioxide on atmosphere warming. Eunice’s paper was not cited. The reason for this overlook is unknown. Tyndall’s work is now regarded as the foundational basis for climate research.

Why has Eunice Foote’s work been largely ignored as the earliest indication of atmospheric warming? Is it because of her gender, her lack of credentials, or the methodology she used? There can be a debate about her lack of acceptance, but one this is indisputable, Eunice Foote was the pioneering hero that began our concern for atmospheric warming over 150 years ago.

Those who do pioneering work are often hidden to history. Perhaps their work made us uncomfortable at the time. What Eunice Foote realized in 1856 is still in dispute today. What we might attribute to gender or credential bias has now evolved into a questioning of science by some. In 2010, the work of Eunice Foote finally got the attention it deserved. The recognition of hidden heroes may take time, in this case, one-and-a-half centuries.

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“Science is of no country and no sex. The sphere of women embraces not only the beautiful and the useful, but the true.”- Professor John Henry of the Smithsonian Institution prior to presenting Eunice Foote’s paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science)

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