The History Of The Science And Of International Meteorological Cooperation

Baron Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier is generally recognised to have been the first person to have made an argument about the greenhouse-like properties of the atmosphere, and to suggest that the atmosphere was important in determining the temperature of the earth's surface.1 He made this assertion in 1827, while studying the flow of heat as an application of his mathematical theorem. He called the effect the 'hothouse effect', through a (mistaken) analogy with how heat is trapped in a greenhouse (Fourier, 1827:585).2

During the course of the nineteenth century, experiments and observations were undertaken to calculate the effect of the gases involved, and CO2 and water vapour became recognised as the most important gases involved in the greenhouse effect (Boyle and Ardill, 1989:12). Of particular importance was the measurement, by British scientist John Tyndall, of the absorption of heat radiation by water vapour. Tyndall measured the transmission of radiation through water vapour, and published a paper on the effects of water vapour as a greenhouse gas in 1863, entitled 'On Radiation Through the Earth's Atmosphere' (Tyndall, 1863). He estimated that water vapour holds about 16 000 times as much heat as does oxygen and nitrogen, the main constituents of the atmosphere.3 Both Kellogg (1987:115) and Gribbin (1990:31) state that Tyndall was the first person to suggest that ice ages were caused by a decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, and Victor and Clark (1991) suggest he also claimed that CO2 rises would lead to temperature rises; these conclusions are not, however, in his 1863 article.

Meteorologists had already begun to cooperate across national boundaries, recognising that their measurements would be far more useful if they were pooled. Two early attempts to set up networks of atmospheric monitoring stations were made, one by the Academia del Cimento in Florence, between 1645 and 1667, both inside and outside Italy, and one by the Meteorological Society of Mannheim, in 1780. The network of stations based in Mannheim included one in the United States and one in Greenland (Van Miegham, 1968:110). Both of these projects collapsed, however, the collapse of the one based in Mannheim being due to the French Revolutionary Wars.

Enduring cooperation began with the First International Meteorological Conference, held on 23 August 1853 in Brussels. This conference standardised meteorological observations to be taken from ships, by establishing a set of instructions for how to take measurements, and a standard form for recording them (Weiss, 1975:809; Cain, 1983:80; Soroos, 1991:198). It was organised at the initiative of a naval officer, Lieutenant M.F.Maury of the United States Navy (Van Miegham, 1968:111). The conference was attended by people from ten countries, with all the participants being naval officers, except Captain James of the British Army and Monsieur A.Quetelet, director of the Royal Belgian Observatory (Van Miegham, 1968:112).James proposed to standardise land-based observations, but this proposal was not taken up.

Twenty years later, the cooperation was institutionalised. At the Leipzig Conference of Meteorologists in 1872, it was proposed that an International Meteorological Organisation (IMO) be established, and an official Congress be organised to establish the organisation, involving government officials (Van Miegham, 1968:112). This conference also standardised land-based meteorological observations, following up James's earlier suggestion. The Leipzig Conference was attended primarily by meteorologists. Fifty-two directors of National Meteorological Services attended, along with other scientists (Van Miegham, 1968:112). According to Weiss, the new developments were due to 'increasing interest in meteorological research, greater recognition of the economic importance of climatic data, and the development of the electric telegraph, which facilitated rapid collection and dissemination of observations' (Weiss, 1975:809). There was also increasing recognition that meteorologists could not enhance their knowledge satisfactorily within national borders, but needed to cooperate across countries. As John Ruskin stated at the time:

The meteorologist is impotent if alone; his observations are useless;

for they are made upon a point, while the speculations to be derived from them must be on space The Meteorological Society, therefore, has been formed not for a city, nor for a kingdom, but for the world..

(Daniel, 1973:8, quoted in Weiss, 1975:809)

By the time the First International Meteorological Congress was held in September 1873 in Vienna, governments had become sufficiently interested that attendance was by government representatives rather than by meteorologists in their private capacity. The Vienna Congress formally established the IMO, which was then set up as an organisation over the following six years, through a series of meetings of the Permanent Committee established at Vienna. These meetings drew up a charter for the organisation, which was finalised at Utrecht in 1878, when the IMO was formally founded (Van Miegham, 1968:113). Following Swoboda (1950), Van Miegham outlines five main stages of the IMO's existence (Van Miegham, 1968:111-20). The first of these included the preliminary conferences of Brussels and Leipzig. The second was the 'preparatory phase', from 1873-1878, when the organisation was set up. The last three periods lasted from 1879-1914, 1919-1939, and 1946-1950 respectively.

During Van Miegham's third period, the IMO coordinated the standardisation of measurements, and also organised a system of exchanging weather information between countries (Cain, 1983:80). Occasionally, the IMO also coordinated pieces of research on meteorological issues. The most prominent of these was in the International Polar Year in 1882-3, when twelve states cooperated to establish and operate fourteen stations round the North Pole, observing various phenomena, including those of a meteorological nature (Maunder, 1990:56).

During this period, a committee of nine non-governmental experts was set up (the International Meteorological Committee) and cooperation on meteorological issues became largely non-governmental again until the inter-war period (Weiss, 1975:809-10). Van Miegham refers to the IMO as a 'federation of directors of national networks of observing stations' (Van Miegham, 1968:111). The other development during this period was the establishment of a number of Technical Commissions (some of which still exist) to look at, and standardise measurement procedures for, various aspects of meteorology (Van Miegham, 1968:114-15).

At the end of the nineteenth century the next development in greenhouse science occurred. Following up work such as that of Tyndall, and based on the theory proposed by Fourier, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published a paper entitled 'On the influence of carbonic air upon the temperature of the ground' in the Philosophical Magazine in 1896 (Arrhenius, 1896; Lunde, 1991:58). In this article, Arrhenius calculated that if the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was doubled, the temperature of the planet would increase by between 5 and 6°C (Arrhenius, 1896:268). These calculations were based on 'measurements of infra-red radiation from the moon at different angles above the horizon, carried out by an American astronomer, Samuel Pierpoint Langley' (Gribbin, 1990:32; Lunde, 1991:58). It was possible to measure the absorbent effects of carbon dioxide because radiation coming in at different angles would pass through different thicknesses of air (Arrhenius, 1896). Arrhenius is generally credited with having taken a crucial step in greenhouse science, by calculating the effect of changing the CO2 concentration in the earth's temperature. However, it is clear from his article that his work was related to, and based on, the work of a number of other scientists. In particular, his only reference in the 1896 article to coal in relation to carbon is in a quote from another Swedish scientist, a Professor Hogbom.4

Later, in his book Worlds in the Making (1908), Arrhenius made the first claim that human industrial activities might significantly affect climate. He wrote there that:

The actual percentage of carbonic acid [CO2] in the air is so insignificant that the annual combustion of coal, which has now (1904) [1908 was the publication date] risen to about 900 million tons and is rapidly increasing, carries about one-seven-hundredth part of its percentage of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Although the sea, by absorbing carbonic acid, acts as a regulator of huge capacity, which takes up about five-sixths of the produced carbonic acid, we may yet recognise that the slight percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere may by the advances of industry be changed to a noticeable degree in the course of a few centuries.

(Arrhenius, 1908:54)5

He also sounds an optimistic note on this question, countering the 'lamentations' which he says were often heard 'that the coal stored up in the earth is wasted by the present generation without any thought for the future', stating that:

By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth; ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind.

(Arrhenius, 1908:63)

The arguments of Arrhenius went unnoticed for much of the next sixty years. The only major exception to this was the suggestion by a British scientist, G.D.Callendar, that human emissions of trace gases were sufficient to lead to significant climate change (Pearce, 1989:97; Lyman, 1990:11; Lunde, 1991:58-9; Rowlands, 1994:82). In a presentation to the Royal Society in 1938, he compared the measured growth of atmospheric CO2 and the temperature records from 200 meteorological stations, and argued that this evidence supported Arrhenius's thesis about the relationship between CO2 and temperature (Callendar, 1938). Callendar remained convinced despite the scepticism of the Royal Society, and, like Arrhenius, was optimistic about the implications, suggesting that the extra CO2 would be good for agriculture in northern temperate zones, and that the warming would be protection against the 'return of the deadly glaciers' (Lyman, 1990:11).

Meanwhile, technological advances such as the development of radio and aviation had made gathering meteorological data much easier, and had made governments more aware of the importance of such data for their economies (Weiss, 1975:810). As a result of this, the IMO became once more an intergovernmental body. The Conference of Directors of the IMO decided in 1935 that future meetings of the IMO would involve governmental representatives and requested governments to send representatives from national meteorological offices (Weiss, 1975:810).

After the war, this process became more formalised when the IMO was turned into the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The newly formed United Nations had the effect of providing a new framework for international cooperation in various scientific and technical fields (Cain, 1983:80). In 1947, the World Meteorological Convention was adopted, which established the WMO. The WMO began operating in 1951, and officially replaced the IMO.

In the years immediately after the Second World War, two technological advances led to greatly increased cooperation on meteorological issues. These were the development ofjet aviation, which created new demands for meteorological data, especially at high altitudes, and the development of satellites, computers and improved radio communications, which together enabled meteorologists to meet this demand (Weiss, 1975:810; Cain, 1983:80-1). Another technological development, the nuclear bomb, also led to increased research on climate, in particular in the US, where the potential climatic effects of the bomb were seen to be important (Hart and Victor, 1993:647-8).

These developments led to the International Geophysical Year (IGY), held between 1 July 1957 and 31 December 1958. The year was sponsored jointly by WMO and the International Council for Scientific Unions (ICSU),6 and 30 000 scientists from more than 1 000 research stations in sixty-six countries participated (Boyle and Ardill, 1989:24; Soroos, 1991:201). It had as its precedents the International Polar Years of 1882-3 and 1932-3, but the fifty-year interval was halved to twenty-five years (Atwood, 1959:682). It was held to conduct studies of the earth and upper atmosphere, and was timed to coincide with a period of strong solar activity and the first satellite launches by the Soviet Union and the United States (Weiss, 1975:810; Soroos, 1991:201). Among other things, it resulted in the first daily weather maps of the earth, the beginning of the British Antarctic Survey's monitoring of stratospheric ozone at the South Pole, the first comprehensive look at Antarctic weather, and the discovery of three counter-currents in the oceans (Weiss, 1975:810; Boyle and Ardill, 1989:24).7

Perhaps the most important of the outcomes of the IGY for the purposes of this discussion was the establishment of the first permanent CO2 monitoring station at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The origins of this lie in another reason why 1957 is an important year in 'greenhouse' history.

Prior to 1957, the prevailing view was that any extra CO2 emitted by humans would be absorbed by the oceans, which was the main reason why Callendar's views had been rejected. Consequently there appeared to be no reason to worry about emissions from fossil fuel burning. In an article in Tellus in 1957, Revelle and Suess first gave good reasons to believe that this would not be the case (Revelle and Suess, 1957).8 They suggested that about half the CO2 emitted would remain in the atmosphere, and that humanity was thus conducting a 'large-scale geophysical experiment' (Revelle and Suess, 1957:19; Pearce, 1989:97). They estimated that the atmospheric CO2 concentration would probably increase by 20-40 per cent 'in coming decades' (Revelle and Suess, 1957:26).

The importance of this argument was that it enabled Revelle to persuade others that it was important to begin collecting systematic data about how much CO2 was in the atmosphere. Before this time only sporadic measurements had been taken. Callendar had only had small numbers of CO2 measurements on which to base his claims. Revelle persuaded one of his graduate students, Charles David Keeling, to begin regular measurements of CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa, as part of the IGY. These measurements have continued since 1958 and produced a direct refutation of the arguments of those who believed that the CO2 would be absorbed by the oceans.

According to Soroos, the success of the IGY led to much greater cooperation on meteorology (Soroos, 1991:201). This led WMO and ICSU to follow up a suggestion by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to develop the World Weather Watch (WWW-not to be confused with the World Wide Web) and the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP). The WWW was established in 1968, and was an extension and expansion of existing cooperative arrangements between countries to collect and distribute weather information. The WWW organises the systematic observation, processing and transmission of meteorological data between countries, which in turn make modern weather forecasting possible.

In 1975, 130 of the then 135 UN member states were participating in WWW (Weiss, 1975:812). There are approximately 9 500 land-based observer stations and 7 000 merchant ships, which collect readings every six hours, and over 100 000 stations which make more simple observations on a daily basis, as part of WWW (Davies, 1972:330; Bruce, 1990:28). There are also satellites from the US, the (ex-) USSR,Japan, and the European Space Agency which are involved in WWW (Cain, 1983:81). There are both geostationary and polar satellites involved, and all points on the earth come under surveillance at least twice daily (Bruce, 1990:28). It was, according to Davies (then Secretary-General of WMO), the development of satellites which made the extensiveness of WWW possible (Davies, 1972:330; Bruce, 1990:28).

GARP was created in 1967 by WMO and ICSU jointly, and is a coordinated research effort to understand the global weather system as a whole, and 'to develop the underlying scientific knowledge as a base for improving the services to be provided by WWW and the scientific understanding of climate' (Cain, 1983:81). It has conducted several large-scale experiments, the most prominent of which has been the First GARP Global Experiment, which became known as the Global Weather Experiment (Weiss, 1975:812; Cain, 1983:81).

The developments in greenhouse science by the beginning of the 1970s were such that sufficient information was being gathered to make rigorous assessments ofthe state of knowledge about climate and any potential climate changes possible. Simultaneously, the institutional developments, in particular within WMO and ICSU, laid the foundations for the organisation and coordination of further research which would facilitate the development of a scientific consensus on global warming during the 1970s and 1980s. It is to the emergence of that consensus that we now turn.

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