Ueber den Einfluss des atmosphärischen Kohlensäuregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche. Offprint from: Bihang Till K. Svenska Vet.-Akad. Handlingar, Bd. 22, No. 1 (January, 1896). [With:] Ueber die Wärmeabsorption durch Kohlensäure und ihren Einfluss auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche. Offprint from: Ofversigt af Kongl. Vetenskaps-Akademiens Förhandlingar, 58th Year, 1901, no. 1.

Stockholm: Norstedt & Söner, 1896 & 1901.

First edition, offprint issues, of Arrhenius’ landmark papers on climate change. “Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) was a scientist with an unusually broad view of the functioning of the natural world, ranging in scale from that of molecules to the whole universe. He is perhaps best known for his work in chemistry, having won the Nobel Prize in 1903 [‘in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered to the advancement of chemistry by his electrolytic theory of dissociation’]; however, he was a pioneer in studies of what is now known as the ‘greenhouse effect’, the increase in surface temperature caused by CO2 (and other infrared absorbing gases) in the atmosphere. He was the first to quantify the influence of changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere on the temperature of the earth’s surface … In his calculations of the greenhouse effect, he realized the important positive feedback process caused by concomitant changes in water vapour. Although Arrhenius’ work on the greenhouse effect was originally motivated by a wish to explain the temperature variations during the quaternary glaciation cycles, he soon applied his results to the issue of possible future climate change caused by industrial emissions of CO2 (from fossil fuel combustion). His first estimate of a man-made global temperature change was published in 1896 [in the first offered paper] … Refined calculations of the human impact on climate were published by Arrhenius in later publications [the last two offered papers]” (Rodhe et al., p. 2). “Arrhenius concluded his 1896 article with the following words: ‘I trust that after what has been said the theory proposed in the foregoing pages will prove useful in explaining some points in geological climatology which have hitherto proved most difficult to interpret.’ His model could account for the onset of interglacials and ice ages. His calculations showed that ‘the temperature of the Arctic regions would rise about 8° to 9°C, if the carbonic acid increased to 2.5 to 3 times its present value’” (Fleming, p. 79). The conclusions of Arrhenius’ 1896 paper are now part of the mainstream of climate change science (although modified in quantitative detail), but they met with severe criticism at the time, notably from Knut Ångström in 1900. Arrhenius replied to Ångström in his 1901 paper, rejecting his criticisms, but modifying his predictions quantitatively.

Svante August Arrhenius was born near Uppsala, Sweden, on February 19, 1859. In 1876 he entered Uppsala University, finished his first degree in physics in four semesters and began preparing for the lower doctorate. In 1881, Arrhenius went to Stockholm to work at the Institute of Physics of the Swedish Academy of Sciences where he applied his knowledge of physics to problems in electrochemistry and wrote a dissertation on the chemical theory of electrolytes, which he published in 1884. His examination committee, ignoring the theoretical aspect of his dissertation, did not award him the highest distinction, but the leading German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, a professor at the Riga Polytechnicum, thought Arrhenius's dissertation was ‘the most important to have been published regarding the theory of affinity.’ Arrhenius collaborated with Ostwald and, with the help of a valuable travel stipend from the Academy of Sciences, worked in a number of Continental laboratories to complete his theory of electrolytic dissociation. After a long postdoctoral period of six years and several unsuccessful candidacies, Arrhenius, with the support of Ostwald, accepted a lectureship in physics at the Stockholm Hogskola in 1891. This position kept him close to home and provided him with stable employment and a laboratory, but it also kept him out of the mainstream of German electrochemistry.

In 1891 the Stockholm Physical Society was formed, with Arrhenius as one of its founders. “It soon drew to its meetings not only scientists from the Hogskola but also those from other institutions … Among the core group, there was Arrhenius himself as Secretary of the Society, Otto Pettersson, Arvid Högbom, and Vilhelm Bjerknes, who were all professors at the Hogskola, Nils Ekholm from the Meteorological Office, and S. A. Andrée from the Patent Office As Arrhenius himself indicated in the [1896] article, the discussions in the Physics Society stimulated him to construct the [climate] model … Two different strands of inquiry in the Society were involved, one concerned CO2 and the other climatic change. Starting in 1892, Pettersson, Andrée and Högbom gave lectures to the Society presenting fresh data on CO2 on the ground, in the oceans and in the atmosphere. The lectures Högbom gave to the Physics Society in 1893 and to the Swedish Society of Chemists in 1894 were the most important, because they began to transform the problem of CO2 from conjecture into theory. Högbom had originally become interested in CO2 in the air as a geologist observing the formation and extension of limestone (the chief source of CO2) across the globe. But he soon expanded his inquiry to include all the components of the geochemical cycle in which CO2 is developed and consumed. His original contributions were to make estimates of the amount of CO2 supplied to the atmosphere through different processes (what is now referred to as the geochemical carbon cycle) and to point to the buffering effects of the oceans … In 1893, Nils Ekholm gave a lecture on the ‘astronomical, physical, and meteorological’ conditions that could have brought about the Ice Ages following the period of milder climate in tertiary times. The lecture gave rise to a lively debate concerning contemporary theories explaining the Ice Ages … Here the matter rested until Arrhenius gave a lecture in early 1895 in which he linked climatic change to long-term variations in CO2 … He proposed to calculate the changes in CO2 necessary to bring about periods of both milder (+8°C) and harsher climate (–5°C), i.e., the conditions which reigned before, during and between the Ice Ages. His preliminary calculations showed that the required changes in CO2 were in the order of 50%. Högbom, who was present, confirmed that those changes could have occurred in geological times. It remained, however, to demonstrate this quantitatively. The construction of the model which enabled him to do so occupied him for most of 1895 …

“The conceptual basis for Arrhenius’ model … concerns the way the atmosphere retains the heat emanating from the ground (‘dark rays’) in contrast with that emanating from the sun (‘light rays’) which is let through. In his rapid review of the history of research on this problem he cited three names: Fourier, Pouillet, and Tyndall. Joseph Fourier (1786-1830) and Claude-Servais-Mathias Pouillet (1790-1868), both French natural philosophers, are rightly cited by Arrhenius as pioneers in the field. They were both concerned with the temperature of the globe. Fourier established the distinction between the light heat (chaleur lumineuse) received on the earth from the sun and the dark heat (chaleur obscure) reflected back into the atmosphere. He also pointed to the lesser facility with which dark heat passes through the atmosphere, thus bringing about higher temperatures than would otherwise have been the case. In describing this phenomenon, Fourier drew on experiments conducted by Horace-Benedict de Saussure (1740-1799), professor of natural history in Geneva. De Saussure had constructed an instrument he called a ‘solar captor’ … Fourier established the analogy between the heat-conserving capacity of de Saussure's instrument and that of the atmosphere. Pouillet used this principle when he worked out the first equation for the thermal equilibrium of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ rays … Neither Fourier nor Pouillet had discussed the reasons for the heat-absorbing capacity of the atmosphere except in the most general terms. To point to the role of CO2 and aqueous vapor (H20) was the contribution of the British natural philosopher John Tyndall (1820-1893). To Arrhenius it was thanks to Tyndall that one had come to recognize ‘the enormous importance’ of ‘the influence of the absorption of the atmosphere upon the climate’ … Through ingeniously designed experiments and under strict laboratory conditions, Tyndall had measured the heat absorption by gases, among them CO2 and H20. What caught Arrhenius’s attention, however, was the discourse ‘On radiation through the earth’s atmosphere.’ In this short piece, Tyndall assigned to the ‘atoms’ of aqueous vapor a capacity 15 times as large as those of oxygen and nitrogen to retain the heat reflected from the earth, despite the fact that these ‘atoms’ only constitute 0.5% of the atmosphere … It is noteworthy that Arrhenius does not cite Tyndall’s Bakerian lecture [‘On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, and Conduction,’ Phil. Trans. 151 (1861), 1-36] in which he is much more explicit about the effect of H20 and CO2 on climate. Given Arrhenius’s interest in explaining long-term variations in climate it may have been because he did not know about it …

“Arrhenius’ research question was: What precisely is this extent of the influence of H20 and CO2 in the atmosphere on the temperature on the ground? … As Arrhenius pointed out, it would be necessary to carry out a laboratory experiment in which one measured the absorption of the heat emanating from a body at +15°C (the average temperature of the earth) by quantities of H20 and CO2 in the proportions in which these were present in the atmosphere, but contemporary research technology did not allow for such an experiment. Instead, he looked for already existing data … Samuel P. Langley (1834-1906), an American astronomer and physicist, specialist on infrared spectroscopy, had carried out extensive observations concerning the amount of heat received on the earth from the full moon at the Allegheny Observatory during the years 1885 to 1887 … A further simplification was introduced by assuming that the absorption of H20 and CO2 by the heat rays entering the earth from the moon when they traversed the atmosphere was similar to that of the heat radiated from the earth into the atmosphere. The key to Arrhenius’ model was the absorption coefficients for CO2 (designated K) and H20 (W) that he calculated using Langley’s data on the radiation of rays from the moon hitting the earth at angles of deviation ranging from 35° to 40°. He based these calculations on the principle that the quantities of CO2 and H20 are proportional to the path of the ray which traverses them. Setting K and W at the value of 1 for a vertical ray, he could calculate how they increased at different angles of deviation. He worked the absorption coefficients into an equation that related changes in K and W to changes in temperature. The equation also took into account the influence of clouds and the heat-moderating effects of snow and water. Working ‘backwards’ as it were, this enabled him to calculate the variations in temperature that would accompany a given change in K and W.

“Presented schematically, the work of assembling the model thus came to represent a three-stage process. Such a presentation, of course, masks the Herculean labors that his work entailed, involving calculations estimated to have been between 10,000 and 100,000. The three steps were as follows:

i. A first step involved working his calculations of mean temperatures at different places around the earth into the equation in order to arrive at the temperature change that would follow from a variation from K = 1 to, e.g., K = 1.5. At this stage W was kept constant. Using available charts he calculated mean temperatures during four seasons for every sector situated between two parallels differing by 10° and two meridians differing by 20°.

ii. An intermediary step took into account the fact that the water vapor in the air increases with temperature. Hence, the change in temperature that would follow from the change in K would also influence humidity. To account for this he calculated relative and absolute humidity in the same manner as that for temperature. He found that the influence of humidity on temperature was relatively uniform around the globe.

iii. A final step involved the presentation of his data in a table which showed variations in mean temperature in sectors from 70°N to 60°S during four different seasons, assuming that K was respectively 0.67, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5 and 3 times the present observed atmospheric level, that is 1.

“The general rule which emerged from the table was that if the quantity of CO2 increases in geometric progression, temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression. For example, if the quantity of CO2 increases 1.5 times the mean increase in temperature (+3°C) would be the same as the mean fall in temperature (–3°C) brought about by a decrease in CO2 from 1 to 0.67. The table showed that the effect would be different for different parts of the globe depending on the amount of CO2 in the air. Thus, in the 0.67 scenario the maximum effect would be on 40° and 50°N whereas in the 3.0 one, they would be north of the 70th parallel. Furthermore, the table indicated that the influence was greater in the summer than in the winter. An increase in CO2 would also diminish temperature differences between day and night, but this was not shown in the table.

“Arrhenius’ final results are impressive both as an innovative exercise in model-building and as a first approximation of the influence of CO2 on climate. This should not make one forget, however, that they hardly rested on solid empirical ground. Arrhenius did not heed Langley’s warning that his investigation had yielded ‘no conclusion which we are absolutely sure of’ … Furthermore, Langley’s data only allowed for calculations by interpolation of the temperature effects of the 0.67 and 1.5 levels of CO2 in Arrhenius's table. The three levels above 1.5 were extrapolated as were those below 0.67. The latter, 0.62 – 0.55 giving a temperature decrease of 4 – 5°C, were used by Arrhenius … to argue that an Ice Age brought about by a change in CO2 was entirely plausible. Conversely, he argued that the doubling and even the tripling of CO2 showed that periods of warmer climate (increases of 8 to 9°C) had preceded the Ice Ages” (Crawford).

“Experts … found Arrhenius’s calculation implausible on many grounds. In the first place, he had grossly oversimplified the climate system. Among other things, he had failed to consider how cloudiness might change if the Earth got a little warmer and more humid. A still weightier objection came from a simple laboratory measurement. A few years after Arrhenius published his hypothesis, another scientist in Sweden, Knut Ångström, asked an assistant to measure the passage of infrared radiation through a tube filled with carbon dioxide. The assistant (‘Herr J. Koch,’ otherwise unrecorded in history) put in rather less of the gas in total than would be found in a column of air reaching to the top of the atmosphere. The assistant reported that the amount of radiation that got through the tube scarcely changed when he cut the quantity of gas back by a third. Apparently it took only a trace of the gas to ‘saturate’ the absorption – that is, in the bands of the spectrum where CO2 blocked radiation, it did it so thoroughly that more gas could make little difference. Still more persuasive was the fact that water vapor, which is far more abundant in the air than carbon dioxide, also intercepts infrared radiation. In the crude spectrographs of the time, the smeared-out bands of the two gases entirely overlapped one another. More CO2 could not affect radiation in bands of the spectrum that water vapor, as well as CO2 itself, were already blocking entirely. These measurements and arguments had fatal flaws. Herr Koch had reported to Ångström that the absorption had not been reduced by more than 0.4% when he lowered the pressure, but a modern calculation shows that the absorption would have decreased about 1% – like many a researcher, the assistant was over confident about his degree of precision. But even if he had seen the 1% shift, Ångström would have thought this an insignificant perturbation. He failed to understand that the logic of the experiment was altogether false. The greenhouse effect will in fact operate even if the absorption of radiation were totally saturated in the lower atmosphere. The planet’s temperature is regulated by the thin upper layers where radiation does escape easily into space. Adding more greenhouse gas there will change the balance. Moreover, even a 1% change in that delicate balance would make a serious difference in the planet’s surface temperature. The logic is rather simple once it is grasped, but it takes a new way of looking at the atmosphere – not as a single slab, like the gas in Koch’s tube (or the glass over a greenhouse), but as a set of interacting layers. The subtle difference was scarcely noticed for many decades, if only because hardly anyone thought the greenhouse effect was worth their attention. After Ångström published his conclusions in 1900, the small group of scientists who had taken an interest in the matter concluded that Arrhenius’s hypothesis had been proven wrong and turned to other problems. Arrhenius responded with a long paper [the second offered], criticizing Koch’s measurement in scathing terms. He also developed complicated arguments to explain that absorption of radiation in the upper layers was important, water vapor was not important in those very dry layers, and anyway the bands of the spectrum where water vapor was absorbed did not entirely overlap the CO2 absorption bands. Other scientists seem not to have noticed or understood the paper” (https://history.aip.org/climate/co2.htm).

These papers offer particular difficulties in the identification of the offprint issue. The Bihang was issued with exactly one article in each journal number. These journal numbers were issued with blue printed wrappers carrying the name of the author, title of the article, name of the journal and volume and issue number, and also a price (2 kr. 75 öre for the Arrhenius article), indicating that it was commercially available and therefore not an offprint for private distribution. The offprint offered here has grey wrappers, plain except for the volume and issue number (not the name of the journal), author’s name and abbreviated article title stamped (not printed) on two lines at the very top of the front wrapper. The stamped information is identical in all copies we have seen and was surely added by the publisher; and there is no price on the wrapper. In our opinion, this establishes that our version is the true offprint – it differs from a journal issue only in the wrappers. The issue of the Ofversigt containing Arrhenius’ article begins at page 1 and contains other articles than his, but internally our copy is the same as a journal extract. However, the wrappers are identical in form to those of the Bihang offprint, with stamped journal/author/title information, so again we believe that our copy of the Ofversigt article is the true offprint.

An English translation of the Bihang paper appeared three months later (‘On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature on the ground,’ Philosophical Magazine 41 (April, 1896), 237-276). The Ofversigt article appeared in the same year in Annalen der Physik.

DSB I, p. 302; Poggendorff IV, 40. Crawford, ‘Arrhenius’ 1896 model of the Greenhouse Effect in context,’ Ambio 26 (1997), 6-11. Rodhe et al., ‘Svante Arrhenius and the Greenhouse Effect,’ ibid., 2-5. Fleming, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change, 1998.



Together two offprints. I. 8vo (215 x 140 mm), pp. [3], 4-102. II. 8vo (214 x 139 mm), pp. 25-58. Original wrappers with publisher’s ink stamp at top margin. Fine copies.

Item #5202

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