ThinkProgress | This woman fundamentally changed climate science — and you’ve probably never heard of her


It was “blind luck” said Ray Sorenson, a retired petroleum geologist, regarding how he first came across Eunice Foote’s name. Sorenson, whose basement in Oklahoma is full of more than 300 pre-Civil War era technical books, discovered Foote’s name sometime in 2010.

Sorenson had found copies of the Annual Scientific Discovery by David A. Wells, and “I really liked them, and started collecting them,” he told ThinkProgress. It was while reading the 1857 volume that he stumbled upon Foote.

As he quickly realized, Foote was the first scientist to make the connection between carbon dioxide and climate change. She discovered CO2’s warming properties in 1856, more than 160 years ago and three years before John Tyndall, a British scientist who has widely been credited with first establishing the connection between increased global temperatures and carbon dioxide.

But for a number of reasons — chief among them the fact that she was a woman — Foote’s name was until recently lost to history, a minor footnote within climate science.

“I knew just enough about the history of climate science,” Sorenson said of his ability to grasp the significance of the name and date. “I recognized that it was something that had been missed by historians,” he explained, “and I felt she deserved recognition.”

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