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Eunice Foote to UCSB A Story of Women, Science and Climate Change

Eunice Foote and John Tyndall

“An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature”

– Foote, Eunice. (November 1856) Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun's Rays. The American Journal of Science and Arts 22, p. 383.

Two hundred years after her birth, Eunice Foote is beginning to get credit for her contributions to climate science. Why did it take so long?

Foote’s paper published in the November 1856 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts did get noticed, with summaries and excerpts appearing in both American and European scientific publications.

However, her findings were eclipsed by John Tyndall, a prominent physicist affiliated with the Royal Institution of Great Britain. In 1859, Tyndall published his own research on the absorption and radiation of heat by gases and vapors, claiming his work to be the first-ever written on the subject. A year later, he remarked in a lecture that carbon dioxide was likely to have an effect on climate. Declaring his work as utterly original, he failed to credit Foote’s earlier work on the same subject.

Until recently, the majority of the scientific community did not mention Eunice Foote while crediting Tyndall as the founder of climate change science. While Eunice Foote is again getting recognition for her ground breaking insights, many maintain that Tyndall was simply unaware of Eunice Foote’s work. There is evidence suggesting this may not be true.