Taking Earth’s temperature at GISS

Image from realclimate.org

We are inherently interested in the temperature. We observe and measure it. We write and talk about it. We hypothesize and analyze about it. Debate it and sometimes, worry and pray about it.

People intuitively sense the link between Earth’s temperature and well-being. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, theorized that Earth must be made up of hot, cold and habitable zones. Lacking an instrument to actually measure the temperature, Aristotle relied on personal, qualitative observations.

Our fascination with weather and climate developed into an organized hobby. Citizen scientists around the world entered their observations and commentary in personal diaries. Scientists, like former GISS researcher, Richard Stothers, actually use these historical documents to study past weather and climate. In the late 1700s, one of America’s Founding Fathers and avid weather observer, Thomas Jefferson, wrote:

"“A change in our climate…is taking place very sensibly. Both heats and colds are become much more moderate within the memory of the middle-aged. Snows are less frequent and less deep…. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do so now…an unfortunate fluctuation between heat and cold” (in spring may be) “very fatal to fruits.”

A contemporary of Jefferson’s, Daniel Webster, voiced his skepticism in Jefferson’s theory. Could this be the first global warming debate?