July 2021

The Greenhouse Effect is proven science

This article is the fifth in a series focused on the causes and consequences of a warming planet

The greenhouse effect, and its ability to influence the temperature of the planet, is not some new scientific fad. The discoveries supporting this effect began almost 200 years ago, have stood the test of time, and have been widely accepted by the scientific community.

In 1859, John Tyndall discovered that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. By that he meant that carbon dioxide can absorb and hold heat.

In 1896, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist claimed that burning coal, oil and natural gas releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and will eventually warm the planet. He made the first calculations of how much the earth would warm from burning increasing amounts of fossil fuels. His predictions were surprisingly accurate.

Guy Callendar, in 1938, made the first actual linkage between rising carbon dioxide levels and the increase in the Earth’s temperature.

In 1958, Charles David Keeling began to measure atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide in Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This measurement showed a carbon dioxide concentration of less than 320 parts per million (ppm) when it was started in 1958, compared to today’s concentration of 416 ppm and rising.

In the 1960s, Syukruo Manabe found that Earth's lower atmosphere (troposphere) is warming but the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) is cooling. This shows that global warming is not caused by an increase in heat coming into our atmosphere from space, which would warm both lower and upper atmospheres. Rather, it shows that it is caused by heat being trapped next to the Earth by to the greenhouse effect and not letting the heat move into the upper atmosphere.

Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect for a long time. It just been in recent decades that the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere has gotten to the level where significant warming is occurring.

See the Ag Decision Maker website for more from this series.

Don Hofstrand, retired extension agricultural business specialist, agdm@iastate.edu
Reviewed by Dr. Eugene Takle, retired professor emeritus Iowa State University


Don Hofstrand

retired extension agricultural business specialist
View more from this author
Reviewed by

Dr. Eugene Takle

retired professor emeritus Iowa State University