New Scientist: The man who discovered greenhouse gases

New Scientist has an article by Stephanie Pain, “The man who discovered greenhouse gases” (13 May 2009), that gives Darwin’s friend John Tyndall some recognition in the Darwin Year:

As an antidote to this year’s Darwin-mania, we celebrate a piece of science from 1859 that wasn’t remotely controversial at the time, but which underpins the hottest political potato of our era: climate change. In May 1859, six months before the publication of On the Origin of Species, Irish physicist John Tyndall proved that some gases have a remarkable capacity to hang onto heat, so demonstrating the physical basis of the greenhouse effect. Charles Darwin had journeyed round the world and ruminated for 20 years before presenting his inflammatory ideas on evolution. Tyndall spent just a few weeks experimenting in a windowless basement lab in London.


Many people think the greenhouse effect is a late 20th-century invention. Yet the physical basis for anthropogenic global warming was established six months before Darwin published On the Origin of Species,” says [Mike] Hulme. “Unlike Darwin, Tyndall’s findings didn’t cause a revolution in thinking. It was a long, slow process before people recognised the implications.”

So, while Darwin connected man to the rest of the natural world, Tyndall was not quite to the point of thinking how man affects the natural world.

Published in: on May 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment