Eleventh-century polymath was the primary to recognise previous local weather change

After discovering fossilised bamboo within the Eleventh century, Shen Kuo deduced that the local weather in northern China had been totally different within the historical previous


8 October 2022

Bamboo forest

A bamboo forest in Sichuan, China

YAY Media AS/Alamy

An Eleventh-century polymath referred to as Shen Kuo was the primary to recognise that the local weather has modified up to now, science communicator Simon Clark instructed New Scientist Stay in London on 8 October.

The historical past of the science of climate and local weather could be very Eurocentric, mentioned Clark. So, whereas writing his e-book Firmament, revealed earlier this 12 months, he checked out what was taking place elsewhere and got here throughout Shen’s work.

In a 1088 work referred to as Dream Pool Essays, Shen wrote about how a landslide uncovered a cavity in a riverbank in what’s now Yan’an in Shaanxi province in northern China, the place circumstances aren’t appropriate for bamboo to develop. However within the cavity, Shen discovered bamboo vegetation that “had turned to stone”.

Puzzled by this discovery, Shen recommended that, in historical occasions, the local weather within the area should have been totally different. That is arguably the primary written account of how the local weather in particular locations might change over time, mentioned Clark.

Whereas Shen’s work has been translated, his early description of palaeoclimatology isn’t extensively recognised, Clark instructed New Scientist after his discuss. “It’s recognized however obscure,” he says.

A lot later, within the seventeenth century, Robert Hooke recommended that that fossils of large turtles present in Dorset, UK, meant that the local weather there should as soon as have been hotter. Later, within the nineteenth century, it was recognised that a lot of Europe was as soon as lined in ice and the sphere of palaeoclimatology started to develop.

Within the Nineties, Svante Arrhenius and T. C. Chamberlain independently realised that the burning of coal might change the local weather.

Shen, who lived from 1031 to 1095, made quite a few contributions to many different fields. In Dream Pool Essays, for example, he was additionally the primary to explain a magnetic compass – a century earlier than the primary account in Europe.

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