The foundations of a clear understanding that society actually was conducting a global geophysical experiment go back over 60 years. In fact, we recently passed one of the early big milestones of that growing recognition - which Dana Nuccitelli reports on.
Pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air and the lead concentrations in ocean waters and human populations.
Only about one two-thousandth of the atmosphere and one ten-thousandth of the ocean are carbon dioxide. Yet to living creatures, these small fractions are of vital importance … Within a few short centuries, we are returning to the air a significant part of the carbon that was slowly extracted by plants and buried in the sediments during half a billion years.
We can conclude with fair assurance that at the present time, fossil fuels are the only source of CO2 being added to the ocean-atmosphere-biosphere system.
Based on projected world energy requirements, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (1956) has estimated an amount of fossil fuel combustion by the year 2000 that with our assumed partitions would give about a 25 percent increase in atmospheric CO2, compared to the amount present during the 19th Century.
Before scientists would take greenhouse effect warming seriously, they had to get past a counter-argument of long standing. It seemed certain that the immense mass of the oceans would quickly absorb whatever excess carbon dioxide might come from human activities. Roger Revelle discovered that the peculiar chemistry of sea water prevents that from happening. His 1957 paper with Hans Suess is now widely regarded as the opening shot in the global warming debates. This essay not only describes Revelle's discovery in detail, but serves as an extended example of how research found essential material support and intellectual stimulus in the context of the Cold War