Remarques generales sur les Températures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires [Fourier]. WITH: Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche [Arrhenius]
Remarques generales sur les Températures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires [Fourier]. WITH: Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche [Arrhenius]
Remarques generales sur les Températures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires [Fourier]. WITH: Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche [Arrhenius]
Remarques generales sur les Températures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires [Fourier]. WITH: Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche [Arrhenius]

Remarques generales sur les Températures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires [Fourier]. WITH: Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche [Arrhenius]

Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth. … Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable. … Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability.

–United States Global Change Research Program, “Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment,” Volume 2 (2018)


Concerns over the impact of human activities on the earth’s climate are based on the fact that “greenhouse gases” produced by industrial activity, including particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), can absorb, and convert into heat, infrared radiation emitted from the earth’s surface. As a result, increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases can lead, through a variety of direct and indirect mechanisms, to increases in average global temperatures. Although “the idea of human agency in climatic change goes back at least to Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, who wrote of local changes of climate caused by … agricultural activities” (James Rodger Fleming, “Historical Perspectives on Climate Change” ), the modern understanding of the link between climate and the composition of the atmosphere has its roots in the nineteenth century. The two papers offered here were key milestones in the development of that understanding.

Joseph Fourier:

Fourier was a mathematical physicist best known for his work on the representation of periodic functions using “Fourier series” and for the development of a mathematical model of heat flow. He seems to have had a gift for always winding up on the wrong side of the political transformations that racked France in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries — a sort of reverse Vicar of Bray. Like Lavoisier, he ran afoul of the Reign of Terror. “During the Revolution, Fourier was prominent in local affairs, and his courageous defense of the victims of the Terror led to his arrest in 1794,” but he survived long enough to be released after Robespierre’s execution. After the Thermidorean reaction to the Terror had set in, he was again arrested, this time, ironically, “as a supporter of Robespierre,” but again he survived. Under Napoleon he was appointed prefect of the departments of Isère and Rhône, and was later granted a barony, but “before the end of Napoleon’s Hundred Days, [he] had resigned his new title and prefecture in protest against the severity of the regime ….” Despite this, he was later blocked from becoming a member of the Académie des Sciences “because Louis XVIII could not forgive his having accepted the prefecture of the Rhône from Napoleon ….” (Dictionary of National Biography).

“It was in the 1820s that [Fourier] first realized that the Earth’s atmosphere retains heat radiation. … [W]ith a leap of physical intuition, he realized that the planet would be significantly colder if it lacked at atmosphere.” (Spencer Weart, “The Discovery of Global Warming”.) In the 1824 paper offered here, “Fourier pointed out that the thickness of the atmosphere and the nature of the surface ‘determine’ the mean value of the temperature each planet acquires. He also observed that, in very general terms, ‘the motion of the air and waters, the extent of the seas, the elevation and form of the surface, the effects of human industry and all the accidental changes of the earth’s surface, modify the temperatures of each climate.’ He admitted, however, that it is ‘difficult to know how far the atmosphere influences the mean temperature of the globe; and in this examination we are no longer guided by a regular mathematical theory.’” (Fleming, op cit.).

Fourier argued that the temperature of the Earth could be “augmented by the interposition of the atmosphere, because heat in the state of light [chaleur lumineuse — in effect, infrared radiation] finds less resistance in penetrating the air, than … when converted to non-luminous heat [chaleur obscure].” Although many later popularizers of Fourier’s work claimed that he had compared the atmosphere to the glass walls of a greenhouse, the paper in fact did not use that analogy. Instead, he referred to “experiments conducted by Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740-1799), professor of natural history in Geneva. De Saussure had constructed an instrument he called a ‘solar captor’ consisting of a box with an interior covered with black cork in which were inserted layers of glass at equidistance. He used his instrument … to show that the temperature under the glass was much higher than on the outside ….” (Elisabeth Crawford, “Arrhenius’ 1896 Model of the Greenhouse Effect in Context”, Ambio 26:6-11 (1997)).

Although the 1824 paper did not develop any quantitative theory of the role of the atmosphere in retaining the earth’s heat, its fruitful speculations were cited by and influenced those who came after Fourier, including John Tyndall (who published a series of papers in the 1860s concerning experiments he had conducted on the absorption of radiant energy by different gases) and Svante Arrhenius (see below).

Note: Offered here is the October 1824 issue of Annales de Chimie et de Physique, in original wrappers, containing the first printing of Fourier’s paper, and not the (more frequently cited) 1827 reprint that was published in Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences.

Svante Arrhenius:

Arrhenius was “one of the founders of modern physical chemistry,” and is particularly known for his theory of the dissociation of ionic compounds in solution, work for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903.

In 1896 Arrhenius published the first quantitative study of how changes in atmospheric CO2 levels might affect climate. Notably, Arrhenius’ model attempted to take into account not only the direct effects of infrared absorption by CO2, but also indirect “feedback” effects. For example, the higher atmospheric temperatures resulting from infrared absorption could lead to increased melting of polar ice, thus reducing the earth’s albedo (reflectivity), leading to reduced reflection of solar radiation back into space, and thus to further temperature increases. (Another feedback effect results from the higher capacity of warmer air to hold water vapor, which is also a greenhouse gas.)

“In [his 1896 paper Arrhenius] developed an energy budget model that considered the radiative effects of carbon dioxide and water vapor at ambient temperatures and studied the response of his model to changes in CO2 concentration. … Arrhenius made very rough estimates of surface and cloud albedo and included simple radiative feedback effects in the presence of snow cover. … Arrhenius argued that variations in trace components of the atmosphere could have a very great influence on the overall heat budget. Using the best data available to him, but necessarily making many estimates and simplifying assumptions, he calculated the mean alteration of temperature that would follow if the quantity of carbonic acid [i.e. CO2] … varied from its present mean value [to lower and higher values]. His calculations ... yielded the general principle that ‘if the quantity of carbonic acid increases in geometric progression, the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression.’” (Fleming, op cit.).

“The numerical computations cost Arrhenius month after month of laborious pencil work as he estimated the energy balance for each zone of latitude. It seems he undertook the massive task partly as an escape from melancholy: he had just been through a divorce, losing not only his wife but custody of their little boy.” (Weart, op cit.).

Interestingly, in view of current concerns, Arrhenius was not primarily focused on the issue of global warming but its opposite — i.e., whether natural processes leading to a low CO2 levels could have brought about the ice ages. (See generally Crawford, op. cit.). However, his calculations also included an estimate of the warming that would result from higher CO2 levels, whether caused by natural phenomena or human activity. He anticipated that such warming would be beneficial: in commenting on his findings in 1906, Arrhenius predicted that by reason of increased levels of atmospheric CO2, “we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind.”

Offered here is a first edition offprint of Arrhenius’ 1896 paper, which was published separately as a supplement (Bihang) to the Kongliga Svenska Vetenskaps-Akademiens Handlingar (Proceedings of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences). “As he often did, Arrhenius had written similar articles in German and English, in order to make his work known to the two major scientific language groups of his time.” (Crawford). In this case, Arrhenius’ complete 100-page monograph was submitted in German to the Handlingar, and an abridged English version, some 40 pages shorter, was submitted to the Philosophical Magazine in London. The German version was initially published in November 1896, in an edition of only 130 copies, for private distribution to members of the Academy. That is the version offered here. It was reissued for public consumption in a separate commercial edition (distinguishable by the price on the cover) in early 1897. The abridged English version, perhaps because it was shorter, was able to get through the press sooner, and was published in the Philosophical Magazine in April 1896.

FOURIER: Remarques generales sur les Températures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires. IN: Annales de Chimie et de Physique, Tome XXVII, October 1824, pp. 136-167. Paris: Chez Crochard, 1824. Octavo, original wrappers. Old institutional stamp on front cover; foxing to outer edge of first leaf, mild general toning and soiling to wrappers, text uncut. ARRHENIUS: Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche. Offprint from: Kongliga Svenska Vetenskaps-Akademiens Handlingar, Band 22, No. 1., [1]-102 [the entire issue]. Stockholm: Kungl. Boktryckereit/ P.A. Norstedt & Söner, 1896. Octavo, original wrappers. A hint of toning to spine and edges of wrappers, otherwise fine. Housed together in handsome custom box with red leather label titled in gilt.


Price: $8,500 .

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