Google Doodle Celebrates an Overlooked Climate Scientist On Her 204th Birthday

In 1856, Eunice Newton Foote performed a simple but revolutionary experiment.

This illustration resembles a pencil sketch. In the scene, a woman from the 1800s has her back to th...
Carlyn Iverson, NOAA

Monday’s Google Doodle celebrates the life of Eunice Newton Foote, the woman who published the earliest-known scientific paper about climate change.

In 1856, Foote performed a simple but revolutionary experiment. She took two flasks, used an air pump to manipulate their moisture content and air density, and when they reached the same temperature, she set them in the Sun, then moved them to the shade. What makes her work so important almost two centuries later is that, in one round, she saw what would happen when the Sun shined on a flask containing carbon dioxide.

After two to three minutes had passed, Foote recorded the temperatures of her flasks. Across all her setups, she found that the round containing carbon dioxide registered the warmest temperature, and took the longest to cool down.

“An atmosphere of that gas would give to our Earth a high temperature,” Foote wrote in her study.

A scene from the Google Doodle animation on Monday, July 17, 2023, which commemorates the work of Eunice Newton Foote.


Foreshadowing today’s global warming

Google Doodle is a feature on the popular web browser that often plays an animation when activated. Google Doodles highlight special accomplishments, anniversaries, and people whose contributions have gone obscured. Monday, July 17, marks Foote’s 204th birthday.

Foote’s legacy has been largely overshadowed by John Tyndall, the person previously credited for the first work on the greenhouse effect. Tyndall examined the effects of carbon dioxide to trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, and published a paper about his findings in 1859.

But three years earlier, Foote had published her study. Titled “Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays,” it is now the earliest-known record of climate change research.

“Her work was presented on August 23, 1856, at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—not by her, but by a male colleague, the eminent Joseph Henry. Neither Foote’s paper, nor Henry’s presentation of it, were included in the conference proceedings, however,” according to an article on, a website from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Key to Foote’s experiment isn’t just the carbon dioxide component, but the context into which she put her work.

“The receiver containing the gas became itself much heated — very sensibly more so than the other — and on being removed, it was many times as long in cooling,” Foote wrote in the study.

She added that if at some point Earth’s atmosphere had higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, an increased temperature “must have necessarily resulted.”

Now, 167 years after Foote published her paper, the planet is roiling in an unprecedented heat wave driven by human carbon emissions. According to NASA, July 2023 is the hottest month on record. The space agency relies on recorded temperatures dating back to 1880, a timeline that begins about two decades after Foote published her paper.

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