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Thursday, June 6, 2013

From 1913 - A perspective on volcanoes and ice ages from Prof WJ Humphreys

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As appeared in The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939) on Saturday 17 May 1913.  Note the reference to the greenhouse effect.

A Novel Explanation of Glacial Periods was propounded by Prof. W.J. Humphreys, of the Weather Bureau, at the Cleveland meeting of the Astronomical and Astrophyslcal Society of America. Several times in recent years it has been observed that great explosive volcanic eruptions (Krakatoa, Pele, Katmai), by charging the upper atmosphere, in the isothermal region, with fine dust, have markedly diminished the amount of solar radiation received at the earth's surface. It seems evident that the effect of this process must be to reduce the temperature of the air near the earth, since the dust scatters a much greater amount of the solar radiation received from without than of the terrestrial radiation received from within, owing to the greater average wave length of the latter. Thus a period of excessive volcanic activity if long continued would produce the thermal conditions of an ice age. The geological record furnishes evidence that such a period actually began shortly before the last ice age and has continued with diminishing intensity to the present time.

About Professor William Jackson Humphreys

Excerpts from longer tribute and biography in Science Vol 112:

Dr. Humphreys was born in a one-room log house at Gap Mills, West Virginia, February 3, 1862.

His undergraduate training was at Washington and Lee University, where he received the degree of A.B. in 1886, and C.E. in 1888. After a year of further study at the University of Virginia, 1888-1889, he taught at Miller School, near Crozet, Virginia, 1889-1893, then at Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland, 1893-1894. In 1894, he began graduate research in physics at The Johns Hopkins University, studying under the great physicist Henry A. Rowland and other noted men; he received the Ph.D. degree in 1897. His notable contribution to physical science began during his graduate work at Johns Hopkins....

...On July 1, 1905, Dr. Humphreys was appointed meteorological physicist in the U. S. Weather Bureau, a position which he held for 30 years. From 1905 to 1908 he was supervising director of the Mt. Weather Observatory, which had been established for the investigation of physical phenomena of the atmosphere; thereafter he served continuously at the Central Office in Washington, D. C.

He turned his attention from spectroscopy to the physical problems of the atmosphere, and soon provided the explanation of the existence and principal characteristics of the stratosphere, first announced on June 30, 1908, to the Physics Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. This was followed by a long series of contributions to meteorological physics that brought him international recognition and many honors....

...His textbook Physics of the Air must be reckoned as one of his major contributions; its influence, and the reputation of its author among physicists, were important factors in obtaining for meteorology a wider recognition as a branch of physics. This treatise originated in a series of lectures given during January, 1914 to aviators in training at San Diego, California. The first edition appeared in 1920, the third in 1940, and it is still unique among modern textbooks: it is a systematic treatment of the physical phenomena of the atmosphere arranged according to the traditional subdivisions of mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, acoustics, and optics. It also includes a long section on geological climates that embodies the author's own original contributions to this problem which, representing the result of careful thought by a competent meteorologist and able physicist, deserve more widespread consideration than they have received.

More here.

A notification of the death of Professor Humphreys by AMS:
Professor Emeritus W. J. Humphreys of George Washington University died November 10, 1949 at the age of eighty-seven years. He had been a member of the Society for twenty-four years.

Photo credit: Harris V. Ewing, Washington D.C., courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, W. F. Meggers Collection

1 comment :

  1. I have a copy of the 3rd edition. It's still excellent.

    The volcano theory of climate change, not so much. But it was respectable for some time, which is better than most ice ages ideas could claim.


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