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GLOBAL WARMING: THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT

Joseph Fourier - The Greenhouse Effect, first editionFOURIER, JOSEPH.  Remarques générales sur les Temperatures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires

FIRST EDITION of Fourier's observation that the ground temperature of the Earth is increased because of the existence of the atmosphere; a phenomenon that would become known as "the greenhouse effect".  Often considered the foundation of climate change science. A scarce copy in original wrappers.

“It was in the 1820s that Joseph Fourier first explained that the Earth's atmosphere retains heat radiation. He had asked himself a deceptively simple question, of a sort that physics theory was just then beginning to learn how to attack: what determines the average temperature of a planet like the Earth? When light from the Sun strikes the Earth's surface and warms it up, why doesn't the planet keep heating up until it is as hot as the Sun itself? Fourier's answer was that the heated surface emits invisible infrared radiation, which carries the heat energy away into space. But when he calculated the effect with his new theoretical tools, he got a temperature well below freezing, much colder than the actual Earth.

"The difference, Fourier recognized, was due to the Earth's atmosphere. Somehow it kept part of the heat radiation in. He tried to explain this by comparing the Earth with its covering of air to a box with a glass cover. That was a well-known experiment — the box's interior warms up when sunlight enters while the heat cannot escape. This was an over simple explanation, for it is quite different physics that keeps heat inside an actual glass box, or similarly in a greenhouse. (The main effect of the glass is to keep the air, heated by contact with sun-warmed surfaces, from wafting away, although the glass does also keep heat radiation from escaping.) Nevertheless, trapping of heat by the atmosphere eventually came to be called 'the greenhouse effect'" (American Institute of Physics).


In: Annales de Chimie et de Physique, pp. 136-167, Tome XXVII, Octobre 1824. Paris: Crochard, 1824. Octavo, original printed wrappers, uncut. custom cloth box. Minor edgewear and foxing to wrappers, early stamp of the Académie d’Aix on first page of text (not affecting Fourier article); text exceptionally clean. Extremely rare in original wrappers. $3300.

Science/Technology/Medicine

Literature/Modern Firsts

Americana/History/Travel

Art/Illustrated/Children's