A climate change duo: Eunice Foote’s pioneering 1856 paper on the absorption of thermal radiation by carbon dioxide and water vapour together with an autograph letter from John Tyndall, discoverer of the absorption of radiant heat by gases some 3 years later.
Foote’s paper appears in The American Journal of Science and Arts. Second Series. Vol. XXII. November, 1856, pp 382-383. Bound in quarter blue library buckram with a paper label at the foot of the spine and a small label at the foot of the front pastedown. Paper repairs to first and terminal flyleaf, no further library markings. Patchy browning to paper stock and browning to edges of text block. Collates complete, with advertisements as issued: pp152; plate [pp] 4 adverts; pp153-460 2 further plates and foldout map [pp] 4 adverts and a terminal subscription leaf for John Dwight ‘Dana’s Report on Geology’.
John Tyndall’s letter is mounted in a bespoke card folder. Single bifolium (9x11cm) written to his friend Juliet Pollock, undated but 1865. Pollock apologises because ‘I have been so pressed with my lectures at the School of Mines and with the Rede Lecture before and afterwards that I have not been able to come to see you - but I have thought of you often enough. Yours ever John Tyrell’ and, mentioning a conversation with her husband William, he proposes to visit her in Cambridge. Tyndall delivered The Rede Lecture at the Senate-House, Cambridge University on May 16, 1865, specifically dealing with the ‘Absorption of Radiant Heat by Gases’.
Until about a decade ago it was generally accepted that John Tyrell had priority in discovering the absorption of thermal radiation by carbon dioxide and water vapour, underpinning our understanding of the greenhouse effect and climate change. It is now universally accepted that the American Eunice Foote made the same discovery 3 years earlier in 1856, and at the same time made the crucial inference that variations in the amounts of water vapour and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could cause changes in climate. Tyndall’s seminal paper, published in ignorance of Foote’s breakthrough, did not appear until 1861.
Eunice Foote, née Newton (1819–1888) was a scientific researcher, inventor and women's rights campaigner; her husband, Elisha (1809–1883) was a specialist in patent law and both Eunice and Elisha took out patents on inventions. In August 1856, some experiments of Eunice Foote on the effect of solar radiation on gases enclosed in cylinders were presented orally to the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), held in Albany, New York. This was the paper that appears here published in the American Journal of Science and Arts in the same year as ‘Circumstances affecting the heat of the Sun's rays’ immediately following a longer paper by her husband which also appears in this volume. In summary, Foote seems to have been the ‘first person to notice the ability of carbon dioxide and water vapour to absorb heat, and to make the direct link between the variability of these atmospheric constituents and climate change’ (Roland Jackson, Royal Society). Tyndall was a trained scientist with access to higher education who had worked with some of the best experimental physicists of his time who ended up approaching the same problem in a different way, making his discovery in May 1859, outlining it to the Royal Society and fully reporting in 1861. Successful in his own lifetime Tyrell was a great networker; as well as his relationships with figures like John Herschel the John Tyrell Correspondence Project has revealed many flirtatious letters with society women who included Juliet Pollock, wife of William Frederick Pollock, who left his Dante collection to Trinity College, Cambridge where Tyrell was planning to visit her. A wonderful pairing.