by Dr Vincent Gray.

NOVEMBER  16th 2011
Arrhenius put his stamp on science?

The Greenhouse Effect, based on carbon dioxide is claimed to have been first established by the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius in his paper
Arrhenius S 1896, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground, London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (fifth series), April 1896. vol 41, pages 237–275. 

I have examined this paper in detail, as part of my paper "The Greenhouse and its Effects" at   which said:
"Arrhenius made no measurements of infra red absorption himself, but was entirely dependent on the measurements of Samuel Pierpont Langley and his assistant Frank Very."
Langley made a series of measurements of the full moon’s radiation with his instrument called the "Bolometer" at the Alleghany Observatory in 1997. He made measurements at different angles with the moon.

Arrhenius had the idea that by finding out the difference he got from different angles he could calculate the absorption of the moon’s radiation by the earth’s atmosphere. By assuming that the radiation from the moon was approximately the same as that of the earth he could calculate the absorption of the earth’s atmosphere by the trace absorbent gases water vapour and carbon dioxide.

Erren  H 2011, "Langley Revisited".
has shown that Langley’s measurements used by Arrhenius were preliminary and had serious errors. They became less accurate as they approached the region used by Arrhenius, the measurements were exaggerated, and did not reach far enough to include the major absorption frequency of carbon dioxide. He concludes from his study that Langley’s observations were of little use in studying the influence of carbon dioxide on the climate".

(The correctness of Erren's argument can be shown by this passage from Arrhenius' paper:
"For angles greater than 38 degrees (>9.5m) we possess no direct observations of emission or absorption of the two gases"
This means that the figures do not contain the main CO2 absorption band  at 14.99 microns. but only the two minor ones at 2.7 and 4.3 microns.

Langley’s figure for the temperature of the moon was 45ºC. Today’s figure is an average of 107ºC for the day temperature, the one Langley measured. This huge discrepancy means that Langley’s figures must be treated as completely unreliable, and so are the results calculated from them by Arrhenius.

Arrhenius assumed that the ratio of carbon dioxide (K) to water vapor (W) in the earth’s atmosphere was K/W where K is 1.5 and W is 0.88, a ratio of 1.7.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is now thought to be 0.039%. The average concentration of water vapour is not known. Since it varies from place to place from 0 to 4% take 2% as typical. This means that the ratio of water vapour and carbon dioxide is about 50 to 1.

So, about 98% of Arrhenius’ figures and calculations, even if soundly based, apply to water vapour and not to carbon dioxide."

I think, on reflection, that my estimate of 98% water vapour was an overestimate.

It is amazing what an edifice has been built up on this hopelessly incorrect paper.


Vincent Gray

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the  establishing of a new truth or fact"         Charles Darwin