Increase in carbon dioxide concentration from burning of fossil fuels, 1958-1970. Graphic: Sawyer, 1972

By Dana Nuccitelli   
19 March 2014

(Guardian) – John Stanley (J.S.) Sawyer was a British meteorologist born in 1916. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1962, and was also a Fellow of the Meteorological Society and the organization's president from 1963 to 1965.

A paper [pdf] authored by Sawyer and published in the journal Nature in 1972 reveals how much climate scientists knew about the fundamental workings of the global climate over 40 years ago. For example, Sawyer predicted how much average global surface temperatures would warm by the year 2000.

"The increase of 25% CO2 expected by the end of the century therefore corresponds to an increase of 0.6°C in the world temperature – an amount somewhat greater than the climatic variation of recent centuries."

Remarkably, between the years 1850 and 2000, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels did increase by very close to 25 percent, and global average surface temperatures also increased by just about 0.6°C during that time.

Sawyer also discussed several other important aspects of the Earth's climate in his paper. For example, he addressed the myth and misunderstanding that as a trace gas in the atmosphere, it may seem natural to assume that rising levels of carbon dioxide don't have much impact on the climate. Sawyer wrote,

"Nevertheless, there are certain minor constituents of the atmosphere which have a particularly significant effect in determining the world climate. They do this by their influence on the transmission of heat through the atmosphere by radiation. Carbon dioxide, water vapour and ozone all play such a role, and the quantities of these substances are not so much greater than the products of human endeavour that the possibilities of man-made influences may be dismissed out of hand."

Sawyer referenced work by Guy Callendar in the late 1930s and early 1940s, in which Callendar estimated that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had increased by about 10 percent over the prior 100 years (an impressively accurate measurement, as current estimates put the increase during that time at about 9 percent). Sawyer also referenced the Keeling Curve, which included continuous reliable measurements of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere beginning in 1958.

Compared to measurements of human carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, Sawyer noted that only about half of those human emissions were remaining in the atmosphere. The other half, climate scientists had concluded, were being absorbed by the oceans and the biosphere. Sawyer wrote,

"Industrial development has recently been proceeding at an increasing rate so that the output of man-made carbon dioxide has been increasing more or less exponentially. So long as the carbon dioxide output continues to increase exponentially, it is reasonable to assume that about the same proportion as at present (about half) will remain in the atmosphere and about the same amount will go into the other reservoirs."

Indeed, over the past four decades, human carbon dioxide emissions have continued to increase more or less exponentially, and about half has continued to remain in the atmosphere with the other half accumulating in natural reservoirs. The carbon dioxide being absorbed by the oceans has contributed to the problem of ocean acidification, sometimes referred to as "global warming's evil twin." [more]

A remarkably accurate global warming prediction, made in 1972



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