by Steve Graham • January 18, 2000
A hundred years ago, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius asked the important question Is the mean temperature of the ground in any way influenced by the presence of the heat-absorbing gases in the atmosphere? He went on to become the first person to investigate the effect that doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would have on global climate. The question was debated throughout the early part of the 20th century and is still a main concern of Earth scientists today.
Ironically, Arrhenius education and training were not in climate research, but rather electrochemistry. His doctoral thesis on the chemical theory of electrolytes in 1884 was initially regarded as mediocre by his examination committee, but later was heralded as an important work regarding the theory of affinity. In 1891, Arrhenius was a founder and the first secretary of the Stockholm Physical Society, a group of scientists whose interests included geology, meteorology, and astronomy. His association with this society would later help stimulate his interests in cosmic physicsthe physics of the Earth, sea, and atmosphere. In 1903, Arrhenius was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on the electrolytic theory of dissociation. In the years following his international recognition, Arrhenius lectured throughout Europe and was elected to numerous scientific societies.