Svante Arrhenius

Arrhenius did very little research in the fields of climatology and geophysics, and considered any work in these fields a hobby. His basic approach was to apply knowledge of basic scientific principles to make sense of existing observations, while hypothesizing a theory on the cause of the “Ice Age.” Later on, his geophysical work would serve as a catalyst for the work of others.

In 1895, Arrhenius presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” This article described an energy budget model that considered the radiative effects of carbon dioxide (carbonic acid) and water vapor on the surface temperature of the Earth, and variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. In order to proceed with his experiments, Arrhenius relied heavily on the experiments and observations of other scientists, including Josef Stefan, Arvid Gustaf Högbom, Samuel Langley, Leon Teisserenc de Bort, Knut Angstrom, Alexander Buchan, Luigi De Marchi, Joseph Fourier, C.S.M. Pouillet, and John Tyndall.

Arrhenius argued that variations in trace constituents—namely carbon dioxide—of the atmosphere could greatly influence the heat budget of the Earth. Using the best data available to him (and making many assumptions and estimates that were necessary), he performed a series of calculations on the temperature effects of increasing and decreasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. His calculations showed that the “temperature of the Arctic regions would rise about 8 degrees or 9 degrees Celsius, if the carbonic acid increased 2.5 to 3 times its present value. In order to get the temperature of the ice age between the 40th and 50th parallels, the carbonic acid in the air should sink to 0.62 to 0.55 of present value (lowering the temperature 4 degrees to 5 degrees Celsius).”


On the Shoulders of Giants
Svante Arrhenius
Arrhenius' Carbon Dioxide
Hot House Theory
Links and References

CO2 and Temperature

next: Hot House Theory
back: Svante Arrenius

As Arrhenius predicted, both carbon dioxide levels and temperatures increased from 1900–1999. However, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased much more quickly than he expected, but the Earth hasn't warmed as much as he thought it would. (Graphs by Robert Simmon, based on data from NOAA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies)