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The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature

Article Link

Callendar, G.S., 1938. The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature. Quarterly Journal Royal Meteorological Society vol. 64, pgs. 223–240.

Essay about the article

Beginning in 1938 and continuing throughout his life, the British engineer and scientist Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964) identified important links between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming. He compiled weather data from stations around the world that clearly indicated a climate warming trend of 0.5 C in the early decades of the twentieth century. He investigated the carbon cycle, including natural and anthropogenic sources and sinks, and the role of glaciers in the Earth's heat budget. His estimate of 290 ppm for the nineteenth-century background concentration of CO2 is still valid, and he documented an increase of ten percent between 1900 and 1935,which closely matched the amount of fuel burned. Based on new understanding of the infrared spectrum and calculations of the absorption and emission of radiation by trace gases in the atmosphere, Callendar established the CO2 theory of climate change in its recognizably modern form, reviving it from its earlier, physically unrealistic and moribund status. In 1939 Callendar wrote about the ongoing changes in the atmosphere and their likely effects:

As man is now changing the composition of the atmosphere at a rate which must be very exceptional on the geological time scale, it is natural to seek for the probable effects of such a change. From the best laboratory observations it appears that the principal result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide…would be a gradual increase in the mean temperature of the colder regions of the earth.

Callendar’s landmark studies revived the anthropogenic carbon dioxide theory of climate change. In 1938 he identified links among fuel combustion, rising CO2 levels, increased sky radiation, and the observed rise in world temperatures from 200 stations. “By fuel combustion man has added about 150,000 million tons of carbon dioxide to the air during the past half century.” Callendar estimated from the best available data that approximately three quarters of this had remained in the atmosphere. He used the radiation absorption coefficients of carbon dioxide and water vapor to show the effect of carbon dioxide on “sky radiation,” From this he estimated the increase in mean temperature due to the artificial production of carbon dioxide to be at the rate of 0.003°C per year at the present time. The temperature observations at 200 meteorological stations were used to show that world temperatures have actually increased at an average rate of 0.005°C. per year during the past half century. Callendar grouped temperature data in England on a town by town basis based on population growth rates. In that way he effectively eliminated the urban heat island effect, which might have skewed his data. Interestingly, Callendar used his home weather station to record an unbroken data set from 1942 to 1964. Today, the theory that global climate change can be attributed to an enhanced greenhouse effect due to elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources, primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels is called the “Callendar Effect.”

Discussion Questions

a. What was the state of climate change theory in general and Arrhenius’s theory in particular when Callendar began his work in 1938.

b. What components of the modern day anthropogenic greenhouse effect did Callendar either discover or develop for the use of meteorologists. That is, what is the “Callendar Effect?”

c. Why do you think a technically-trained steam, combustion, and defense engineer with a life-long interest in climate change was mistakenly dismissed for so long as an “amateur?” Name some other prominent British “amateur” scientists from this an other eras.


Callendar, G.S., 1939. The Composition of the Atmosphere through the Ages. Meteorol. Mag. 74, 33–39.

Callendar, G. S. 1949. Can Carbon Dioxide Influence Climate? Weather 4, 310–314.

Callendar, G. S., 1961. Temperature fluctuations and trends over the Earth. Quart. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc., 87, 1-12.

Fleming, James R. 2007. The Callendar Effect: The life and work of Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964), the scientist who established the carbon dioxide theory of climate change. Boston, American Meteorological Society.

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Select articles citing this paper

Johnson, J. M. F., A. J. Franzluebbers, et al. (2007). "Agricultural opportunities to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions." Environmental Pollution 150(1): 107-124.

Brewer, P. G., B. X. Chen, et al. (2006). "Three-dimensional acoustic monitoring and modeling of a deep-sea CO2 droplet cloud." Geophysical Research Letters 33(23).

Nakayama, N., E. T. Peltzer, et al. (2005). "First results from a controlled deep sea CO2 perturbation experiment: Evidence for rapid equilibration of the oceanic CO2 system at depth." Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 110(C9).

Sarmiento, J. L., J. C. Orr, et al. (1992). "A PERTURBATION SIMULATION OF CO2 UPTAKE IN AN OCEAN GENERAL-CIRCULATION MODEL." Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 97(C3): 3621-3645.


Dickinson, R. E. and R. J. Cicerone (1986). "FUTURE GLOBAL WARMING FROM ATMOSPHERIC TRACE GASES." Nature 319(6049): 109-115.

Manabe, S. and R. J. Stouffer (1980). "SENSITIVITY OF A GLOBAL CLIMATE MODEL TO AN INCREASE OF CO2 CONCENTRATION IN THE ATMOSPHERE." Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans and Atmospheres 85(NC10): 5529-5554.

Oeschger, H., U. Siegenthaler, et al. (1975). "BOX DIFFUSION-MODEL TO STUDY CARBON-DIOXIDE EXCHANGE IN NATURE." Tellus 27(2): 168-192.


Rubey, W. W. (1951). "GEOLOGIC HISTORY OF SEA WATER - AN ATTEMPT TO STATE THE PROBLEM." Geological Society of America Bulletin 62(9): 1111-1147.

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