11th-century polymath was the first to recognise past climate change

After discovering fossilised bamboo in the eleventh century, Shen Kuo deduced that the climate in northern China had been totally different in the historic past


8 October 2022

A bamboo forest in Sichuan, China

YAY Media AS/Alamy

An 11th-century polymath known as Shen Kuo was the first to recognise that the climate has modified in the past, science communicator Simon Clark informed New Scientist Live in London on 8 October.

The historical past of the science of climate and climate may be very Eurocentric, stated Clark. So, whereas writing his e-book Firmament, revealed earlier this yr, he checked out what was occurring elsewhere and got here throughout Shen’s work.

In a 1088 work known as Dream Pool Essays, Shen wrote about how a landslide uncovered a cavity in a riverbank in what’s now Yanan in Shaanxi province in northern China, the place situations aren’t appropriate for bamboo to develop. But in the cavity, Shen discovered bamboo crops that had turned to stone.

Puzzled by this discovery, Shen recommended that, in historic instances, the climate in the area should have been totally different. This is arguably the first written account of how the climate in particular locations may change over time, stated Clark.

While Shens work has been translated, his early description of palaeoclimatology isn’t broadly recognised, Clark informed New Scientist after his discuss. Its identified however obscure, he says.

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

In the Nineties, Svante Arrhenius and T. C. Chamberlain independently realised that the burning of coal may change the climate.

Shen, who lived from 1031 to 1095, made quite a few contributions to many different fields. In Dream Pool Essays, as an illustration, he was additionally the first to describe a magnetic compass a century earlier than the first account in Europe.

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