Thursday, December 5, 2013

Flashback to 1909: Professor Skeats on CO2 and water vapour acting as "a kind of a blanket"

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Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931)

Assuming then, that the astronomers' contention is correct, what other phenomena may have existed in bygone ages to enable vegetation to flourish in the South Polar regions?

I apprehend two other contingencies which might have modified the South Polar climate in bygone ages. In the first place, changes in Earth's crust, which, geographically speaking, are a constant factor, may have been of such a nature as to modify the direction of ocean, winds and currents, so that the climate of the region has passed from a temperate one into its present frigid conditions.

'A second alternative,' continued the Professer, 'depends upon possible atmospheric changes. There are, in fact, two gases suspended in the earth's atmospheric envelope, which have a most pronounced effect upon climatic conditions. These are aqueous vapor and carbonic acid gas.'

'How do these affect climate?'

'These gases act as a kind of blanket, and while transparent to heat coming from the sun, are relatively opaque to heat rising from the earth. They tend, in fact, to check radiation.'

'If these atmospheric conditions had obtained, what deductions do you make from them?'

'On the assumption that the atmospheric envelope contained an abnormal amount of these two gases, the temperature of the whole earth would have risen in consequence, and conditions would conceivably have existed at the South Pole quite consistent with extensive plant and animal life. The samples of coal brought home will, however, be required to be carefully examined before it can be accurately ascertained if tropical or sub-tropical conditions ever existed at the South Pole.'

In conclusion, Professor Skeats stated that a rise in temperature of a comparatively few degrees Fahrenheit would suffice to seriously modify climatic conditions right down to the Pole itself.

Ernest Willington Skeats

Source: The University of Melbourne
From the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

Ernest Willington Skeats (1875-1953), geologist, was born on 1 November 1875 at Berais Town, Southampton, England, son of Frank George Skeats, bank clerk, and his wife, Alice Erena, née Martin. Educated at Handel and Hartley colleges, Southampton, he entered the Royal College of Science, London, in 1893 with a studentship, receiving a first-class associateship in chemistry (1896) and geology (1897). He graduated from the University of London (B.Sc., 1st-class honours, 1899; D.Sc., 1902), with a thesis entitled 'The chemical composition of limestones from upraised coral islands, with notes on their microscopical structures'. He became a demonstrator in geology at the Royal College in 1897.

Skeats's early research work, which established his reputation as a petrologist, centred on the chemical and microscopical characteristics of limestones and particularly on the origin of dolomite. He studied samples from several Pacific islands and undertook field and laboratory studies on the stratigraphy and origin of the Dolomites of the Southern Tyrol. Using his work and that of others on modern coral reefs as a basic for comparison, he was able to show that the Dolomites owed their origin to ancient coral reefs and had undergone changes similar to those affecting modern reefs.

Appointed to the chair of geology and mineralogy in the University of Melbourne in 1904 as successor to J. W. Gregory, Skeats served as dean of the faculty of science in 1910-15 and was president of the Professorial Board in 1922-24. He retired in 1941 as professor emeritus.

In Australia he chiefly studied the petrology of igneous rocks, particularly those of Victoria. He published papers on the Devonian volcanics and granites of Central Victoria, the Cambrian basic lavas of Heathcote, the basic dyke rocks, and the Tertiary volcanic rocks of central and eastern Victoria, particularly the alkali lavas. For his scientific work he received the first award of the Daniel Pidgeon Fund from the Geological Society of London (1903), the (W. B.) Clarke medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales (1929), and the Mueller medal from the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (1937).

Skeats's research interests were reflected in the work of his postgraduate students, who concentrated mainly on petrological studies, often following on from his own pioneering work. He insisted on clarity and simplicity in research reports and encouraged publication of results. Under his leadership, the department won an international reputation as a specialist school in igneous petrology and petrography and his students, who included F. L. Stillwell and H. C. Richards, rose to high positions in the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Australian universities, and in Geological Surveys in Africa and India.

A benevolent autocrat, who ran an extraordinarily neat and efficient department, Skeats was genuinely interested nevertheless in the welfare of his staff and their families and his students. He had a ready wit and a great love for Gilbert and Sullivan operas, which he played and sang by heart whenever he had occasion, particularly on student excursions. In his youth he played Association football, as captain of the Royal College of Science team in 1895-97. In Melbourne he took an interest in Australian Rules football, was an avid cricket fan and served as president of the university sports union from 1920 to 1941.

Outside the university, Skeats was active in scientific circles at local and national levels. A council-member of the Royal Society of Victoria from 1906 until his death, he served as vice-president (1908-09), president (1910-11) and trustee (1929-53). He was president of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (1924-25), a councillor for many years and elected honorary member in 1952. A founder of the Australian National Research Council (1919), he was for many years Victorian representative. He was president of section C (Geology) of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1909. In 1925 he served on the projects and finance committee for the foundation of C.S.I.R., and after its establishment in 1926 chaired its mineragraphic committee.

Skeats died, childless, on 20 January 1953 at Glen Iris and was cremated. He had married, first, Mary de Fraine Whitaker (d.1932) on 23 December 1904 at Croydon, Surrey, England, and, second, a widow Anne Sheppard, née Hayes, on 4 May 1940 in Melbourne. Following the death of his wife on 18 June 1967 his estate, valued for probate at £37,617, was shared equally between the Royal Society of Victoria, the Geological Society of London, and the University of Melbourne, which also holds a portrait by Max Meldrum.

Other Flashbacks

Click here for more flashbacks relating to climate and earth science from the National Library of Australia.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Very interesting topics, I hope the incoming comments and suggestion are equally positive. Thank you for sharing this information that is actually helpful.



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