Remembering Eunice Foote

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

An email last week from David Terry, editor of the valuable BEACONS Guides to Climate Change in which he discusses the sadly little known Eunice Foote, who was the first to discover greenhouse gases.

The book that Paul Vare and I wrote recently: The World We'll Leave Behind: Grasping the Sustainability Challenge, features Foote's work in Chapter 27 on The Greenhouse Effect.  We finish the chapter in this way:

The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1856 by the American scientist Eunice Foote.[i]  She showed that gases in the atmosphere were affected by the Sun’s radiation in different ways, and of all the gases she tested, it was CO2 that trapped the most heat.  In 1859, UK physicist John Tyndall independently demonstrated the same effects, and he usually gets the credit for making the link.  This was because he published his results, including data on how the absorption of radiant heat differed from gas to gas.  Foote was ahead of her time.  Although her work was not published, and she wasn’t even allowed to present her findings to fellow scientists as no woman could do that in the USA at the time, it’s reported that she also speculated about whether changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air might lead to a warming of the Earth.  Rather inevitably, only one of these two scientists has a University Climate Change research centre named after them.[ii]

[i] For details of the work of Eunice Foote go to:

[ii] The University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre is named after John Tyndall:

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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