Aqueous Vapor

140 Years Ago

The part played by aqueous vapor in the economy of Nature is far more wonderful than hitherto supposed. To nourish the vegetation of the earth, the actinic and luminous rays of the sun must penetrate our atmosphere, and to such rays aqueous vapor is eminently transparent. The violet and the extra-violet rays pass through it with freedom. To protect vegetation from destructive chills, the terrestrial rays must be checked in their transit toward stellar space, and this is accomplished by the aqueous vapor diffused through the air. This substance is the great moderator of the earth's temperature, bringing its extremes into proximity, and obviating contrasts between day and night which would render life insupportable.

That was John Tyndall, 140 years ago.

He told three generations, in his physics text "Heat as a Mode of Motion," just what the greenhouse effect was. If I were a Californian and thirty years younger, I would say, "Gee, that is so.... great!"

Many of my meteorologist and climatologist friends don't know now what Tyndall knew in 1864 or, at least, seem to think it is some new discovery of the GCM era. What a difference 140 years doesn't make.

Water in the air determines the floor below which daily temperatures do not fall. Water for evaporation, if available, determines the ceiling above which temperatures do not rise. If minimum and maximum temperatures are at atmospheric water's beck and call, how then do greenhouse gases work?

For more than a year I have found this a most difficult question. People who say they are in the know, say that average temperature will increase in a greenhouse gas-enriched world. They calculate their average temperature as the minimum temperature plus the maximum temperature and divide by two. So, how does your common greenhouse gas play a role if they do not control minimum and maximum temperatures? And how can we detect it if still does?

J. Tyndall, F. R. S. (March 17, 1864). Researches on Radiant Heat. Proceedings of the Royal Society. pp. 160-168.


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