John Gribbin

Climb Every Mountain

The Ascent of John Tyndall: Victorian Scientist, Mountaineer, and Public Intellectual

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In 1859, John Tyndall wrote, ‘the atmosphere admits of the entrance of the solar heat; but checks its exit, and the result is a tendency to accumulate heat at the surface of the planet.’ He was just beginning a thorough scientific study of the way infrared radiation is absorbed by different gases, including water vapour and carbon dioxide, which others would later develop into an understanding of the human impact on global warming. Tyndall always had a good way with words, summarising some of his research as follows:

The sun’s invisible rays far transcend the visible ones in heating power, so that if the alleged performances of Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse had any foundation in fact, the dark solar rays would have been the philosopher’s chief agents of combustion.

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