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date: 24 January 2020

Advent of Climate Science

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

The advent of climate science refers to the historical emergence of a research program to study climate according to a modern definition of climate. Climate in this sense (a) refers not simply to the average state of the atmosphere, but also to its variability; (b) is multiscalar, concerned with phenomena ranging from the very small and fast to the very large and slow; and (c) is understood to be influenced by the oceans, lithosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere. While the history of climate science is just beginning to be written, existing narratives tend to focus on the development of computerized general circulation models since World War II. However, following this definition, the advent of climate science occurred well before the computer age. Important precedents emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it was in the late 19th century that the science of climate coalesced into a unified research program.