Science Resources

The Discovery of Global Warming

How did scientists discover global warming? What methods was used in the 1800s to discover that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was a greenhouse gas? What is the greenhouse effect, anyway? Where do aerosols come from and how do they impact the climate?

What relation is there between solar activity and the climate? What are the climate cycles of the past and what relevance do they have today? How do scientists gain information about past climates through fossil shells and ice core drilling? How has climate models developed over time? Why are supercomputers required for modern climate models? How did researchers measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and what conclusions did they draw from it? What is the larger social and political context of global warming?

The Discovery of Global Warming is an online expansion of a book by the same name written by Spencer Weart and put on the website of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics. In contrast to many other climate science textbooks, this one focuses almost exclusively on the history of climate science and how scientists reached the conclusion that the earth was warming and human activity had a profound impact on it.

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It is split into five different sections. The introduction surveys the different aspects of the book and offers tips on what sections are more important than others, how to access the different sections and information about the search feature, bibliography and links. The section on different factors that influence climate explains the basic science of the greenhouse effect and how it was discovered, other greenhouse gases, the impact of aerosols, solar activity and oceanic currents.

The third section on climate data highlights the current warming trend, past climates and how researchers uses shells, ice cores and trees to gain insight into past climates. The penultimate section focuses on the theory behind climate models, whereas the final section examines the history of climate change in the larger context of society, from the public to the government and international collaborations.

The book can be read online or each essay can be downloaded individually in PDF format. Unfortunately, there is no single PDF file with all content available at this point. Besides the material already described, there is a large section with links to both basic and advanced material.

The core benefit with this book over other material on global warming is that it clearly lays out the historical and scientific background on the scientific field. This can help people who have a hard time accepting the climate science because while it is easy to rationalize away any modern finding, it is much more difficult to rationalize away research progress over many decades. It also paints a fascinating process of scientific discovery, so it is useful for people who are interested in the growth of scientific knowledge.


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