How The First Woman Climate Scientist Beat The Science's Founding Fathers

Although it’s not a common fact for many, the history behind climate science dates back to around 200 years ago, making it the most studied and reviewed field in modern science.

Of course, for a field as booming and large as this, there has to be a few pioneers that started it via a few breakthroughs. There’s James Rodger Fleming, who established the carbon dioxide theory of climate change, there’s Roland Jackson, whose discoveries include the physical basis of the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, and there’s Alexander von Humboldt, an intrepid explorer who’s most revolutionary idea is that nature is part of an interconnected global force that exists not just for humans.

But did you know that one climate science’s foremost pioneer is a woman?

A women’s rights campaigner with a keen interest in science, Eunice Foote is a name that is all but forgotten until this 2019, when scientists decided to keep her memory alive by celebrating her 200th birthday. In addition, scientists are also determined on making sure her contributions are recognized.

Although not known, Foote was the first ever who had written and presented a paper that highlighted the heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide, something she discovered herself after a simple experiment that led her to understanding how higher levels of CO2 would lead to the Earth steadily getting warmer and warmer as time goes by. This means that Foote understood climate change before climate science is even a broad field.

"An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature . And if as some suppose, at one period of its history the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its own action as well as from increased weight must have necessarily resulted,” she wrote in the paper.

The idea was very prophetic if you look at what’s happening now. However, it was largely ignored at the time, with only the journal publishing only a short page of it. In fact, besides an American Journal of Science paper published in 1856, there is no other evidence of her life.

Thankfully, a retired petroleum geologist by the name of Ray Sorenson discovered her work back in 2011, who found the findings very significant.

"It is a reminder of the struggle that women have gone through to emerge in science and society. Her story is also a reminder that basic elements of climate science, like the warming potential of carbon dioxide, were already being demonstrated over 150 years ago,” Annarita Mariotti, an ocean and atmospheric scientist, who along with several others are trying to keep Foote's legacy alive today, said.

woman scientist Study shows girls are less likely to pursue STEM majors in college because they do not believe they have the ability for challenging mathematics. Intel Free Press, CC BY-SA 2.0.