We have not paid (much) attention to climatologists for almost two centuries, despite getting their predictions right many years later.
The science of climate change is an exciting story of meticulous and transgressive researchers, fighters, and forgotten women.
Yet, political leaders and global citizens often overlook the climatologists’ predictions and contributions.
However, on the verge of global warming and climate change, global leaders and citizens are now recognizing the true worth of climatologists all over the world.
The article brings you the list of those names who continuously dedicated their lives to studying climate and meteorology and predicting Earth’s climate change 40 or 50 years back.
Table of Contents
1. Joseph Fourier, France
|From||Auxerre, Burgundy, Kingdom of France (now in Yonne, France)|
|Born Date||March 21, 1768|
|Died||May 16, 1830 (aged 62)|
|Field||Mathematician, physicist, historian|
|Known as||Father of Greenhouse Effect and Fourier Transform|
|Thoughts on climate change||The greenhouse effect retains heat in the atmosphere.|
The French scholar Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier was the first to explain the greenhouse effect in a treatise.
Joseph Fourier was born in 1768 into a humble family in Auxerre (France), and at the age of 10, he was orphaned.
That did not prevent him from contributing significantly to Egyptology, holding high political office, or writing the first scientific text on the greenhouse effect, in addition to becoming one of the most famous mathematicians in history.
Specifically, around 1820, Fourier calculated that an object the size of the Earth and with its same distance from the sun must be considerably colder than the Earth is, heated only by the effects of incoming solar radiation.
Fourier considered that the Earth’s atmosphere acts as an insulator. It was an idea that was recognized as the first proposal for what is known as the greenhouse effect.
Now, the one who used the analogy for the first time was the English physicist John Henry Poynting (1852-1914). In a 1907 article, he spoke of the “greenhouse effect” to explain the phenomenon of retention of heat in our atmosphere.
Fourier has also known for his work on decomposition periodic functions into convergent trigonometric series called Fourier series, a method he managed to solve the heat equation. The Fourier transform is named after him.
2. Eunice Newton Foote, USA
|From||Goshen, Connecticut, USA|
|Born Date||July 17, 1819|
|Died||September 30, 1888 (aged 69)|
|Field||Biologist and Women Rights Activist|
|known for||Theorizing Carbon Dioxide effect on the rise of global temperature|
|Thoughts in Climate Change||The increase in CO2 will cause global warming|
Four thermometers, two glass cylinders, and a vacuum pump are all it took for the American Eunice Foote to conclude that the more carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere, the more heat on Earth.
We know today that global warming is responsible for the current climate change. It was in 1856, 165 years ago.
She was the first to contribute to the current understanding of the greenhouse effect, climate change, weather, and meteorology. However, her name has been almost forgotten.
On August 23, 1856, at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Albany, New York, only a woman signed only work: Circumstances Affecting the Heat of Sun’s Rays by Eunice Newton Foote.
But although she experimented, wrote the results report, and dared to send it to the meeting, she could not attend to present and defend it because 164 years ago, women were not allowed to attend AAAS.
Her research was presented by Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution, although Foote got it published in November 1856 in The American Journal of Sciences and Arts.
In 1824, the French mathematician Jean Batiste Fourier had calculated that the Earth must be much colder and assumed that something in the atmosphere must act as an insulating blanket. But only Foote’s experiments explained the phenomenon.
For years, however, the discovery of climate change was attributed to Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius and the discovery of global warming to John Tyndall. He improved on Foote’s experiments six years after she presented her study.
Foote was ahead of the science of her time. She explained what would happen if CO2 in the atmosphere increased.
“If the air were mixed with a higher proportion of CO2 than at present, the result would be an increase in the ambient temperature,” she explained.
It is how she predicted the phenomenon that has wreaked havoc on the planet, especially since the industrial revolution, and whose effects today are unprecedented in millennia.
3. Svante Arrhenius, Sweden
|From||Wik Castle, Sweden, Sweden-Norway|
|Born Date||February 19, 1859|
|Died||October 2, 1927 (aged 68)|
|Field||Physics and Chemistry|
|known for||Arrhenius equation, Theory of ionic dissociation, and Acid-base theory, Father of Climate Change|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||Climate change is due to human activity|
|Awards||Davy Medal (1902), Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1903)|
Svante is a Swedish physicist and chemist belonging to a family of farmers; his father was an administrator and surveyor of a farm.
Svante studied at the University of Uppsala, where he received his doctorate in 1884 with a thesis on the electrical conduction of electrolyte solutions.
He exposed the gem of his Theory according to which electrolyte molecules dissociate into two or more ions. The strength of a base or acid is directly related to its dissociation capacity.
Arrhenius always showed great interest in various interdisciplinary issues. One of them was the cause of the different glaciations that the planet had passed through throughout its history.
Arrhenius tried to determine if the determining factor for these climatic events could be the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Arrhenius quantified the carbon dioxide effects, concluding, in 1896, that a reduction in this gas levels in the atmosphere to half of those existing at that time would mean a decrease in the planet’s temperature of between 4ºC and 5ºC. It could lead to massive cooling similar to that occurring during ice ages on Earth.
However, he warned that a 50% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would cause global warming between 5ºC and 6ºC.
Likewise, he pointed out that the industrial activity of the time was the primary source of carbon dioxide entry into the atmosphere.
For his work in the ionization of electrolytes, which made it possible to interpret the physical laws of electrolysis, he was awarded the prestigious Davy Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1902; in addition to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903, he received the Gibbs medal from the United States in 1911.
4. Charles David Keeling, USA
|From||Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA|
|Born Date||April 20, 1928|
|Died||June 20, 2005 (aged 77)|
|known for||Keeling Curve, Father of Global Warming Research|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||Climate change accelerates|
|Awards||National Medal of Science (2002), Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2005)|
This American scientist is known as the father of global warming research. In 1958 he began to record the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, at a time when scientists did not believe that emissions from cars or factories could have an impact on the climate.
The scientist took measurements of CO2 levels in the atmosphere and found that they were increasing year after year, an upward trend that has been dubbed as the Keeling Curve.
His graphs showed that the concentration of greenhouse gases was increasing. With these data in hand, Keeling warned, for the first time, that this situation could be due to human action.
Keeling correctly associated the intensity of the greenhouse effect with the activity of living things and made precise measurements to determine the concentrations of carbon dioxide at various points on Earth, at different seasons of the year.
In 1996, Keeling and his colleagues showed that seasonal swings in carbon dioxide levels in the Northern Hemisphere were getting larger, possibly indicating that the plant’s growing season was starting earlier because of global warming.
Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Charles David Keeling earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1948 and a doctorate in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1954. He passed at the age of 77 due to a heart attack.
5. Jule Charney, USA
|From||San Francisco, California, USA|
|Born Date||January 1, 1917|
|Died||June 16, 1981 (aged 64)|
|known for||Charney Report|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||If we double CO2 emissions, the temperature will rise 3ºC|
|Awards||Guggenheim Fellowship Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, International Meteorological Organization Prize, William Bowie Medal|
Jule Charney played a crucial role in the development of modern meteorology and was one of the first to use computers for weather prediction. He also formulated an innovative theory about the formation of cyclones.
But the surname of this American scientist was forever linked to the Charney report presented more than four decades ago that laid the foundations for the study of climate change.
Charney, who developed his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), led experts’ investigations.
In 1979, they already warned of the consequences of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Among them are what we know today as global warming.
The experts simulated the effects of the increase in CO2 in three-dimensional models of atmospheric circulation, taking into account many uncertainties in their projections.
They made it clear that if polluting emissions were to double; it would cause “A significant global warming of between 2 ° and 3 °.” Modern studies confirmed that they were entirely correct.
They also marked their uncertainties about the increase in heat in the oceans. The document noted that “it is quite possible that the capacity of the deeper oceans to absorb heat has been seriously underestimated. If this is so, the warming will occur at a slower rate, until these intermediate waters reach a temperature where they no longer can absorb heat”.
They also warned that “by reducing the extent of the world’s forests and increasing the area of agricultural land, man has also transformed carbon in trees and soil organic matter into CO2. “
Charney died in 1981, when the concise and direct report, barely twenty pages long, had not achieved the expected social and political impact.
But at present, it is considered one of the early documents that most clearly anticipated the phenomenon.
6. Christiana Figueres, Costa Rica
|From||San José, Costa Rica|
|Born Date||August 7, 1956|
|known for||2015 Paris Agreement|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||Individual actions help in climate change|
|Awards||2019 Dan David Prize for combating climate change|
Though Christina is not a climatologist, she has been the global leader working to conserve the environment for many years, so it is a must to mention her name on this list as she is the woman behind the 2015 Paris Agreement. And it is that she played a vital role in the leadership of the entire process.
The former UN Climate Change Officer is also a co-founder of the Global Optimism initiative. This environmental diplomat took the lead in international negotiations on climate change after the Copenhagen Summit failed.
She was born into a Costa Rican family with good political connections, the man’s daughter, who led the country’s transition to democracy and served three times as its president.
After training as an anthropologist, she dedicated her life to public service. As a Costa Rican climate negotiation team member since 1995, she assisted in drafting the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent agreements.
She has more than 35 years of a long diplomatic career dedicated to the fight against climate change.
In 2019, she received a million-dollar award from the Dan David Foundation. It recognized her for her work in environmental preservation, including six years (2010-2016) as the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, where she negotiated the historic agreement signed by 175 countries in 2016.
The diplomat aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. Figueres believes that there is finally enough anger against climate change. “Young people between 12 and 20 years old are taking to the streets, tired of seeing the world they are going to inherit.”
The former UN Climate Change leader has pointed out that “now we can say that the next decade has the potential to see the fastest economic transition in history.”
7. Syukuro Manabe, Japan
|From||Shinritsu, Uma, Ehime, Japan|
|Born Date||September 21 1931 (age 90)|
|known for||Climate Models, use of computers simulate climate change, Father of Climate Models.|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||We should monitor climate change through satellite and in-situ observation.|
|Awards||Crafoord Prize (2018), Nobel Prize in Physics (2021)|
Syukuro Manabe and his colleague James Hansen independently created the first computational models capable of simulating climate behavior and projecting the impact of greenhouse gases on the Earth’s temperature.
Moreover, they also accurately predicted, decades ago, how much the Earth’s temperature would rise due to the increase in atmospheric CO2.
Today scientists rely on dozens of climate models to predict the evolution of the climate, all of the inheritors of those devised by Manabe and Hansen.
The contributions of the meteorologist Syukuro Manabe date back to the sixties when he tried to develop a numerical model to simulate the atmosphere’s behavior.
At that time, it was unknown that CO2 concentrations were increasing in the atmosphere due to the fossil fuels burning, and even less was it suspected that such a process could have consequences on the Earth’s climate.
Manabe, who had just received his doctorate in Japan, was doing meteorology research. He traveled to the USA in 1958 to work with a colleague from the US Weather Bureau in Washington.
The scientist incorporated computers into his research and created the first global atmospheric circulation model, which took parameters such as water vapor, winds, or heat transport in the atmosphere.
In the late 1960s, as a researcher at the US Atmosphere and Ocean Agency (NOAA), Manabe developed his model and predicted that if the concentration of CO2 doubled, the global temperature would rise two degrees.
Manabe is the father of climate models that today allow us to comprehend the complexity of climate change and project its future.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann. Along with them, the Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi has also been recognized.
The award has been given to them to understand complex physical systems and, of course, the Earth’s climate system.
8. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, India
|From||Chennai, Madras Presidency, British India|
|Born Date||November 24, 1944 (age 77)|
|known for||Carbon Dioxide is not the only gas, but methane, soot, and other natural gases are also responsible for climate change.|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||All must come hand in hand to fight against climate change|
|Awards||BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015), Tang Prize (2018)|
Until 1975, everyone thought that carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere were solely responsible for increasing the planet’s temperature.
That year, Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an Indian living in the US, proved many other culprits and embarked on a scientific and social career to understand the causes of climate change and fight its effects.
After the multitude of scientific contributions of Ramanathan in forty years of research, it is now known that CO2 emissions are only responsible for just over half of the warming that the planet’s atmosphere suffers.
The rest is caused, above all, by other gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used for refrigeration, methane present in natural gas, tropospheric ozone, and even microscopic solid particles present in soot.
And it is in the fight against these, called trace gases, he has focused his dissemination and fights against climate change.
“We know that these other pollutants have a high impact, but the good news is that they give us a great opportunity to dramatically reduce global warming in a few years because their effect on the atmosphere is short, and we already have the technology not to emit them.” Explained the climatologist.
By being agile against trace gases, Ramanathan published in one of his scientific papers, the impact of climate change can be reduced by between 30% and 50% over the next three decades.
Furthermore, this would help the poorer half of humanity, which is also among their concerns.
In 2007 he launched the Surya Project – sun in Sanskrit – to promote the implementation in India, his country of origin, of kitchens that do not emit soot, which is detrimental to both health and the temperature of the planet.
Ramanathan’s fundamental contributions to climate science are manifold. In 1993, he sent a fleet of fledgling drones to follow a polluted air mass in the Pacific Ocean. He revealed that aerosols and particles from air pollution influence the planet’s temperature.
Two years later, he discovered that clouds of pollution caused by the incomplete burning of fuels – from diesel cars to stoves and rustic kitchens – in Asia cool the surface of the Earth but conserve heat and transport it to the Himalayas, where they accelerate the melting of its glaciers. Something similar affects other mountain ranges, such as the California Sierra Nevada.
He argued that the fight for nature conservation is one of the few areas where science, politics, and religion can agree and work for hand in hand.
To this, he attributes the agreement of the Paris summit, which he described as “the most important document available to humanity.”
9. Vaudoise Sonia Seneviratne, Switzerland
|Born Date||June 5, 1974 (aged 47)|
|Field||Biology and Environmental Science|
|known for||9th on Reuters “hot list” of climate scientists|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||Prolonged periods of droughts can increase Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.|
|Awards||Awards: Hans Oeschger Medal from the European Geosciences Union (2021)|
Specializing in heatwaves, droughts, and other extreme events, the Vaudoise combines scientific excellence and commitment to the fight against global warming.
Born in Lausanne, the scientist has distinguished herself for her research on extreme events, such as droughts or heat waves. She also contributed, as lead author, to the report on 1.5-degree warming published in 2018 by the IPCC/ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The year 2019, the second warmest since the start of the measurements, was marked by many extreme events: droughts, heat waves, forest fires.
A scientist has made a specialty of studying these phenomena, which will be more and more frequent in the future. “My area of expertise is the role of vegetation in the climate system,” explains the researcher. Two-thirds of the precipitation our planet receives comes from water evaporated by forests. It’s a critical process, but one that remains poorly understood.”
In January 2020, her testimony on the consequences of the rise in temperatures played a decisive role in the acquittal of climate activists during a high-profile trial in Renens.
The climatologist’s mother of two children explains that it is also to leave them “a more or less decent world” that she is fighting.
For her, “the current crisis caused by the coronavirus shows the weaknesses of our globalized society when it is affected on a large scale, which would also be the case with increasing climate change.”
Optimistic, Sonia Seneviratne believes that this dramatic episode will also offer the opportunity to develop more climate-friendly solutions, such as teleworking and promoting local production.
She is listed on Reuters Hot List, ranking the world’s 1000 most influential climate scientists established by the agency. The Swiss move to the 9th position.
10. James E. Hansen, USA
|Born Date||March 29, 1941|
|Known As||Father of Climate Change|
|Thoughts on Climate Change||Anthropogenic warming had already influenced Global Climate|
|Awards||BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award|
James Hansen is a scientist known as the “father of climate change.” He has been working on the subject since the 1970s when he wrote his doctoral thesis on the climate of Venus under the guidance of the physicist, also an American, James Van Allen.
In an article published in the Science journal in 1981, he warned that “carbon dioxide warming would stand out among all-natural climate variables around the year 2000.”
In what is historically the hottest of the summer in Washington, on June 23, 1988, James Hansen was the person who testified before the US senate committee on energy and natural resources.
He made one of the first public claims that anthropogenic warming had already significantly affected the global climate.
In that public appearance, Hansen said: “global warming has reached a level such that we can attribute with a high degree of certainty a cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming.”
He is inspiring because he is a scientist bringing a novel humanistic approach to climate action to defend the future of life.
He has guided the world towards a sustainable society, denouncing the inaction of central governments, starting with that of his own country, the United States.
He had withdrawn from public debate by 2009, but the birth of his grandchildren brought him back to write his book “Storms of my grandchildren.”
In his book, he argues that the only way out of the current crisis we are experiencing is to put a progressive tax on fossil energy-producing companies. It is so expensive to produce coal or oil that they should invest in clean energy.
Also, citizens should be sanctioned indirectly based on the amount of carbon dioxide that the consumption of their goods or services entails.
In December 2013, Hansen published in the public library of science and 18 other authors a report on the UN objectives against climate change.
The report stated that “even if the targets set by the intergovernmental panel on climate change to stay below 2 degrees of global temperature rise met, the authors believe the damage would be unacceptable.”
Together with the climatologist Syukuro Manabe, James Hansen received the BBVA foundation frontiers of knowledge award in climate change in its sixth edition (2016).
He received the award for independently creating the first computer models to simulate the climate’s behavior and accurately predict, decades ago, how much the Earth’s temperature would rise due to the increase in atmospheric CO2.
Today scientists rely on dozens of climate models to predict the evolution of the climate, and all these models are heirs to the Hansen and Manabe models.
Besides these climatologists and activists, celebrities like Leonardo Di Caprio, Bill Gates, economist Hoesung Lee, former US President Barack Obama have spoken and fought for climate change.
Preserving the environment and fighting for the climate is not only the responsibility of climatologists. We, from our part, should also contribute as little things hold higher values.