In Professor Kerry Emmanuel’s talk, we were introduced to some of the revolutions within the field of climate science during the last 300 or so years. The occurrences mentioned during this talk support the idea that revolutionary ideas are those that are monumental in importance, but also are a significant change from what was held to be true before the introduction of said idea. I have come to the realization, through listening to these talks, that many revolutionary ideas come about when people decide to think differently. People abandon what they know and have been taught is true, and begin to explore. Professor Emmanuel also spoke about how one revolution can spark another, even in a different discipline. This idea is fundamental in the idea of a revolution. Often times, discovering new information about one specific subject can reveal related information about another. However, sometimes, even when the two subjects aren’t related, success due to a change in thinking can inspire other people to approach problems within their field differently. Revolutions can create a type of intellectual momentum that is incredible.
Professor Emmanuel mentioned two specific revolutionary events that occurred in the field of climate science in the last 300 years. The first of these was the discovery that much of the Earth was covered in enormous ice sheets at points in its history. The retreating of these large glaciers explained many natural phenomena such as “erratics,” terminal moraines, etc. More support was given to this hypothesis in 1875 when orbital variations were discovered. The orbital cycle of Earth, where over a given period of time the shape of this orbit would stretch and then shrink, bringing Earth generally farther away and closer to the sun, was determined to by 100,000 years by Milanković. The obliquity cycle was also found to by 41,000 years. These findings as well as the experiments conducted by Urey and Emiliani determined that there had by 14 glacial cycles in Earth’s history. This is also an excellent example of physics and climate science coming together to contribute to a common idea.
The second major even Emmanuel Spoke about was the curiosity some climate scientists had about the Earth’s surface temperature. It was observed that heat from the sun could travel to Earth easily but that once it was here, it became almost trapped. In 1859, Tyndall discovered that although the atmosphere consists almost entirely of N2, O2 and Ar (99%), that the trace molecules like H2O, CO2, N2O, etc. are what keep the Earth warmer. The ideas here inspired physicists like Stefan and his student Boltzmann to study black body curves, and they eventually created an equation to express the emission of radiant energy from a black body. Planck was then inspired to study black body curves in 1900 where he eventually determined that radiant energy must be quantized into packets. This became the basic idea behind quantum physics.
Professor Emmanuel spoke about two major revolutionary events in climate science that he feels have helped to shape the field today. However, he also included how these events led to revolutions in other scientific fields. Revolutionary thinking is contagious, whether the revolution be social, political, scientific, etc. This idea has been proven throughout history and without it, we may not have made the advancements that we have up to this point.