Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Weather Science

I've posted about the weather and predicting the weather that was used by many in the 19th century. Sometimes these predictions held true and sometimes they didn't. Below is a post from the Meteorological tables and Climatology of Vermont ©1877 that I believe shows a nice overview of how 19th century man understood the atmosphere.

It is desirable that all should have a general understanding of our atmosphere, and the laws by which our storms are regulated or produced, and to render such instructive I shall say something of the history of Meteorological' Science, and also of familiar signs as well as instrumental observations. Two hundred and fifty years ago it was not known that we had an atmosphere. All the phenomena it produces were explained upon other principles, some of them showing the wildest theories and the most absurd ideas. The creation of the atmosphere as declared in Genesis, as the "firmament" dividing the waters, was not understood. A vague and unmeaning explanation was given it. When it was discovered that there was in reality an aeriform fluid surrounding the earth, possessing weight, color, power of diffusing light and heat, and necessary to the existence of all animal and vegetable life, it struck with wonder and astonishment all the learned throughout the world. So wonderful and incredible did it at first appear, that it was not until after the lapse of several years, till opinions which had prevailed for ages were overthrown,'and the most decisive experiments had been performed in every possible way, that it was cordially received. This atmosphere is composed mainly of two gases, nitrogen and oxygen. It was, however, less than eighty years ago, supposed to be a simple body, but is now known to be composed of about eighty parts by measure of nitrogen, and twenty parts of oxygen. It may be necessary to offer a few remarks on these gases, opposite in their nature ; entering into no chemical union, yet being combined in so exact proportion as to support animal and vegetable life, and the smallest change, perhaps, detrimental to either. Oxygen gas is eminently the supporter of combustion, and ignited substances burn in it with the most intense brilliancy. Even shavings of zinc and iron may be ignited, by dipping the ends in melted brimstone, and introducing them into this gas while the brimstone is on fire. They then burn with intense heat and give a peculiar light, exemphiying the fact that if our globe was surrounded by an increased amount of oxygen, many now incombustible substances could be burned.

Nitrogen gas is exactly opposite in quality. It will extinguish fire as well as water, and will soon kill any animal that breathes it uncombined with oxygen. Yet four fifths of the air we breathe is this noxious substance.

Oxygen is the life-giving element, and as this is largely consumed in combustion and respiration, and by those processes replaced by an equal volume of carbonic acid, which is detrimental to animal life, it would seem that the atmosphere would at length become deleterious. This would be the case, were it not for vegetation, which by aid of the sun's rays, absorbs the carbonic acid, and gives off, after the appropriation of the carbon, oxygen for the animal. Thus the animal and vegetable mutually support each other; I say support, as breathing affords three fourths of our own nourishment; leaving the other quarter, only, to be supplied by food. With this unceasing metamorphosis in beings and things, goes on a continuous exchange, by virtue of which the gases of the atmosphere take up their abode in animal and plant. Each atom of air, therefore, passes from life to life as it escapes from death after death, being in turn wind, flood, animal, plant, or flower, being successively employed in the composition of thousands of plants and animals.

It is the inexhaustible source from whence everything that lives draws much the largest share of its support, and into which everything that dies contributes. Under its action vegetables and animals are brought into existence and then perish.
Life and death are alike taken in at every respiration, and the atom of oxygen which escapes from the blade of grass may find its way into the lungs of the infant in the cradle; or the last sigh of a dying man go to nourish the brilliant petal of a flower.

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