Thursday, July 18, 2013

Flashback to 1940: Gradually rising earth's temperature and Kirtley Fletcher Mather

Sou | 12:34 AM Feel free to comment!

From the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954) Monday 3 June 1940


Earth's Temperature

The earth's average temperature is gradually rising, perhaps not from year to year or from decade to decade, but certainly over longer periods. As the world gets warmer more and more glaciers melt, oceans increase in depth, and more land is submerged. In that way temperature has a direct bearing on geography.

What would happen if the average temperature on earth shot up by as much as 10 degrees? Dr Kirtley Mather, an American geologist, has considered this very question, and he tells us that such a rise would change the world drastically. Vast expanses of ice in the polar regions would melt, increasing the average depth of the oceans by at least 50 feet. Thousands of square miles of land would be covered by water. Here are some of the possible results : Finland, Holland and Northern Russia would disappear; Norway and Sweden might become a new island; the United States would lose much of its Atlantic coastline, including such cities as New York and New Orleans; the tropics would become too hot for human habitation; the temperate zones would become tropical; and the mild climate of Greenland would attract thousands of settlers.

But no one need be alarmed by such prospects. According to Dr Mather, the 10 degrees rise in   average temperature which might have all these consequences is likely to take at least 15,000 years to develop. The probable increase in the depth of the oceans is an inch every 100 years.

Kirtley Fletcher Mather
Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records,
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Kirtley Fletcher Mather (1888-1978) was a renowned geologist whose contributions range well beyond the geosciences. He was a scientist with a religious spirit and a social conscience. He graduated from Denison University in 1909, received the Ph. D. in Geology from the University of Chicago in 1915, and was awarded 6 honorary doctorates. Mather taught at the University of Arkansas (1911-1914), Queens University (1915-1918), and Denison University (1918-1924). For 30 years (1924-1954) he was a Professor of Geology at Harvard University, serving terms as Chairman of the Department of Geology and Director of the Harvard Summer School. In 1951, Mather was elected President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and from 1957 to 1961 he was President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. After retiring from the Harvard faculty, Mather continued to be very active as a lecturer, reviewer, and social activist.

A superb teacher and productive scholar — as evidenced by his dozen books, 250 professional articles, and 1,200 book reviews—Kirtley Mather was an exemplar of the interdisciplinary approach to understanding the world. His geologic writings concerned geomorphology, petroleum geology, paleontology, and popularizations of all phases of modern geology. His belief in the mutual merits of religion and science received wide attention in 1925 when he participated in the highly publicized Scopes Trial, on the side of Scopes, Darrow, and the evolutionists. A political liberal, Mather frequently opposed movements which he considered to be threats to human freedom and dignity. The rebellion against the Massachusetts Teacher's Oath of 1935 was led by Mather and he was an outspoken critic of the McCarren Act and "McCarthyism" in the 1950s. The volume and diversity of Mather's achievements are impressive, but equally noteworthy is the integrated wholeness of his view of the world.

Read more in (a fascinating and lively read!): Kirtley Fletcher Mather's Life in Science and Society
Bork, Kennard D. The Ohio Journal of Science. v82, n3 (June, 1982), 74-95

Or the (boring) Wikipedia entry.

Click here for more flashbacks to climate articles in Australian newspapers.

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