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04/22/2013

Meet the man behind global warming

Callendar
Guy Callendar wrote a paper in 1938 that confirmed for the first time that the Earth was heating up. (Photo courtesy: University of East Anglia in England)

In April 1938, British amateur climatologist Guy Stewart Callendar wrote a paper that confirmed for the first time that the Earth is warming up. It helped kick start research into one of the world’s biggest scientific conundrums.

That happened exactly 75 years ago.

Scientists in England are marking this anniversary with a new research paper looking at the legacy of Callendar’s landmark findings.

Callendar’s contribution was fundamental, said Ed Hawkins of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading  and one of the authors of the study. Callendar is still relatively unknown, but in terms of the history of climate science, his paper is a classic, said Hawkins.

A steam engineer and inventor, Callendar developed the theory that linked rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to global temperatures, something that did not reach the mainstream of public consciousness until the 1980s.

(He was an enthusiastic amateur who made all the calculations in his spare time, by hand, without the use of computers.)

Despite groundbreaking discovery, Callendar did not receive widespread acclaim when he first published his work, Hawkins added.

“People were sceptical about some of Callendar’s results, partly because the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere was not very well known and because his estimates for the warming caused by CO2 were quite simplistic by modern standards,” Hawkins said in a statement.

Callendar’s estimates for the amount of observed warming have stood the test of time and agree remarkably well with more modern analysis of the same period, said Hawkins.

"On increasing global temperatures: 75 years after Callendar" will be published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society -- the same journal in which Callendar’s paper was first published.

Callendar died in 1964.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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