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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

Facts about...global warming predictions.


CURWOOD: This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most prescient scientific papers ever published. In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius presented his groundbreaking work linking changes in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with the world's climate. Working with data gathered by fellow scientist S.P. Langley, Dr. Arrhenius reckoned the burning of fossil fuels would double the CO2 levels in 3,000 years. He did more than 10,000 calculations by hand, and predicted that would lead to a rise in temperature of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius. That projection has stood up remarkably. Today's computers revise the estimate of temperature rise only slightly, to between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees. But Dr. Arrhenius's projections on the rate of CO2 increase proved way off the mark, because he could never have seen the unprecedented industrial boom of the 20th century. The doubling of CO2 levels he said would take 3,000 years is now projected to happen by the year 2070. But his work did show remarkable insight into many factors that influence climate, including ice fields, clouds, and the ocean. In 1903, Dr. Arrhenius was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, not for this work on global warming but for his research into something far more mundane, electrolytic dissociation. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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