"An astonishing miracle has just occurred in our district," wrote M. Marais, a worthy if undistinguished citizen of France, from his home at L'Aigle, under date of "the 13th Floreal, year 11"—a date which outside of France would be interpreted as meaning May 3, 1803. This "miracle" was the appearance of a "fireball" in broad daylight—"perhaps it was wildfire," says the naive chronicle—which "hung over the meadow," being seen by many people, and then exploded with a loud sound, scattering thousands of stony fragments over the surface of a territory some miles in extent.

Such a "miracle" could not have been announced at a more opportune time. For some years the scientific world had been agog over the question whether such a form of lightning as that reported—appearing in a clear sky, and hurling literal thunderbolts—had real existence. Such cases had been reported often enough, it is true. The "thunderbolts" themselves were exhibited as sacred relics before many an altar, and those who doubted their authenticity had been chided as having "an evil heart of unbelief." But scientific scepticism had questioned the evidence, and late in the eighteenth century a consensus of opinion in the French Academy had declined to admit that such stones had been "conveyed to the earth by lightning," let alone any more miraculous agency.

In 1802, however, Edward Howard had read a paper before the Royal Society in which, after reviewing the evidence recently put forward, he had reached the conclusion that the fall of stones from the sky, sometimes or always accompanied by lightning, must be admitted as an actual phenomenon, however inexplicable. So now, when the great stone-fall at L'Aigle was announced, the French Academy made haste to send the brilliant young physicist Jean Baptiste Biot to investigate it, that the matter might, if possible, be set finally at rest. The investigation was in all respects successful, and Biot's report transferred the stony or metallic lightning-bolt—the aerolite or meteorite—from the realm of tradition and conjecture to that of accepted science.

But how explain this strange phenomenon? At once speculation was rife. One theory contended that the stony masses had not actually fallen, but had been formed from the earth by the action of the lightning; but this contention was early abandoned. The chemists were disposed to believe that the aerolites had been formed by the combination of elements floating in the upper atmosphere. Geologists, on the other hand, thought them of terrestrial origin, urging that they might have been thrown up by volcanoes. The astronomers, as represented by Olbers and Laplace, modified this theory by suggesting that the stones might, indeed, have been cast out by volcanoes, but by volcanoes situated not on the earth, but on the moon.

And one speculator of the time took a step even more daring, urging that the aerolites were neither of telluric nor selenitic origin, nor yet children of the sun, as the old Greeks had, many of them, contended, but that they are visitants from the depths of cosmic space. This bold speculator was the distinguished German physicist Ernst F. F. Chladni, a man of no small repute in his day. As early as 1794 he urged his cosmical theory of meteorites, when the very existence of meteorites was denied by most scientists. And he did more: he declared his belief that these falling stones were really one in origin and kind with those flashing meteors of the upper atmosphere which are familiar everywhere as "shooting-stars."

Each of these coruscating meteors, he affirmed, must tell of the ignition of a bit of cosmic matter entering the earth's atmosphere. Such wandering bits of matter might be the fragments of shattered worlds, or, as Chladni thought more probable, merely aggregations of "world stuff" never hitherto connected with any large planetary mass.

Naturally enough, so unique a view met with very scant favor. Astronomers at that time saw little to justify it; and the non-scientific world rejected it with fervor as being "atheistic and heretical," because its acceptance would seem to imply that the universe is not a perfect mechanism.

Some light was thrown on the moot point presently by the observations of Brandes and Benzenberg, which tended to show that falling-stars travel at an actual speed of from fifteen to ninety miles a second. This observation tended to discredit the selenitic theory, since an object, in order to acquire such speed in falling merely from the moon, must have been projected with an initial velocity not conceivably to be given by any lunar volcanic impulse. Moreover, there was a growing conviction that there are no active volcanoes on the moon, and other considerations of the same tenor led to the complete abandonment of the selenitic theory.

But the theory of telluric origin of aerolites was by no means so easily disposed of. This was an epoch when electrical phenomena were exciting unbounded and universal interest, and there was a not unnatural tendency to appeal to electricity in explanation of every obscure phenomenon; and in this case the seeming similarity between a lightning flash and the flash of an aerolite lent color to the explanation. So we find Thomas Forster, a meteorologist of repute, still adhering to the atmospheric theory of formation of aerolites in his book published in 1823; and, indeed, the prevailing opinion of the time seemed divided between various telluric theories, to the neglect of any cosmical theory whatever.

But in 1833 occurred a phenomenon which set the matter finally at rest. A great meteoric shower occurred in November of that year, and in observing it Professor Denison Olmstead, of Yale, noted that all the stars of the shower appeared to come from a single centre or vanishing-point in the heavens, and that this centre shifted its position with the stars, and hence was not telluric. The full significance of this observation was at once recognized by astronomers; it demonstrated beyond all cavil the cosmical origin of the shooting-stars. Some conservative meteorologists kept up the argument for the telluric origin for some decades to come, as a matter of course—such a band trails always in the rear of progress. But even these doubters were silenced when the great shower of shooting- stars appeared again in 1866, as predicted by Olbers and Newton, radiating from the same point of the heavens as before.

Since then the spectroscope has added its confirmatory evidence as to the identity of meteorite and shooting-star, and, moreover, has linked these atmospheric meteors with such distant cosmic residents as comets and nebulae. Thus it appears that Chladni's daring hypothesis of 1794 has been more than verified, and that the fragments of matter dissociated from planetary connection—which be postulated and was declared atheistic for postulating—have been shown to be billions of times more numerous than any larger cosmic bodies of which we have cognizance—so widely does the existing universe differ from man's preconceived notions as to what it should be.

Thus also the "miracle" of the falling stone, against which the scientific scepticism of yesterday presented "an evil heart of unbelief," turns out to be the most natural phenomena, inasmuch as it is repeated in our atmosphere some millions of times each day.


If fire-balls were thought miraculous and portentous in days of yore, what interpretation must needs have been put upon that vastly more picturesque phenomenon, the aurora? "Through all the city," says the Book of Maccabees, "for the space of almost forty days, there were seen horsemen running in the air, in cloth of gold, armed with lances, like a band of soldiers: and troops of horsemen in array encountering and running one against another, with shaking of shields and multitude of pikes, and drawing of swords, and casting of darts, and glittering of golden ornaments and harness." Dire omens these; and hardly less ominous the aurora seemed to all succeeding generations that observed it down well into the eighteenth century—as witness the popular excitement in England in 1716 over the brilliant aurora of that year, which became famous through Halley's description.

But after 1752, when Franklin dethroned the lightning, all spectacular meteors came to be regarded as natural phenomena, the aurora among the rest. Franklin explained the aurora—which was seen commonly enough in the eighteenth century, though only recorded once in the seventeenth—as due to the accumulation of electricity on the surface of polar snows, and its discharge to the equator through the upper atmosphere. Erasmus Darwin suggested that the luminosity might be due to the ignition of hydrogen, which was supposed by many philosophers to form the upper atmosphere. Dalton, who first measured the height of the aurora, estimating it at about one hundred miles, thought the phenomenon due to magnetism acting on ferruginous particles in the air, and his explanation was perhaps the most popular one at the beginning of the last century.

Since then a multitude of observers have studied the aurora, but the scientific grasp has found it as elusive in fact as it seems to casual observation, and its exact nature is as undetermined to-day as it was a hundred years ago. There has been no dearth of theories concerning it, however. Blot, who studied it in the Shetland Islands in 1817, thought it due to electrified ferruginous dust, the origin of which he ascribed to Icelandic volcanoes. Much more recently the idea of ferruginous particles has been revived, their presence being ascribed not to volcanoes, but to the meteorites constantly being dissipated in the upper atmosphere. Ferruginous dust, presumably of such origin, has been found on the polar snows, as well as on the snows of mountain-tops, but whether it could produce the phenomena of auroras is at least an open question.

Other theorists have explained the aurora as due to the accumulation of electricity on clouds or on spicules of ice in the upper air. Yet others think it due merely to the passage of electricity through rarefied air itself. Humboldt considered the matter settled in yet another way when Faraday showed, in 1831, that magnetism may produce luminous effects. But perhaps the prevailing theory of to-day assumes that the aurora is due to a current of electricity generated at the equator and passing through upper regions of space, to enter the earth at the magnetic poles—simply reversing the course which Franklin assumed.

The similarity of the auroral light to that generated in a vacuum bulb by the passage of electricity lends support to the long-standing supposition that the aurora is of electrical origin, but the subject still awaits complete elucidation. For once even that mystery- solver the spectroscope has been baffled, for the line it sifts from the aurora is not matched by that of any recognized substance. A like line is found in the zodiacal light, it is true, but this is of little aid, for the zodiacal light, though thought by some astronomers to be due to meteor swarms about the sun, is held to be, on the whole, as mysterious as the aurora itself.

Whatever the exact nature of the aurora, it has long been known to be intimately associated with the phenomena of terrestrial magnetism. Whenever a brilliant aurora is visible, the world is sure to be visited with what Humboldt called a magnetic storm—a "storm" which manifests itself to human senses in no way whatsoever except by deflecting the magnetic needle and conjuring with the electric wire. Such magnetic storms are curiously associated also with spots on the sun—just how no one has explained, though the fact itself is unquestioned. Sun-spots, too, seem directly linked with auroras, each of these phenomena passing through periods of greatest and least frequency in corresponding cycles of about eleven years' duration.

It was suspected a full century ago by Herschel that the variations in the number of sun-spots had a direct effect upon terrestrial weather, and he attempted to demonstrate it by using the price of wheat as a criterion of climatic conditions, meantime making careful observation of the sun-spots. Nothing very definite came of his efforts in this direction, the subject being far too complex to be determined without long periods of observation. Latterly, however, meteorologists, particularly in the tropics, are disposed to think they find evidence of some such connection between sun-spots and the weather as Herschel suspected. Indeed, Mr. Meldrum declares that there is a positive coincidence between periods of numerous sun-spots and seasons of excessive rain in India.

That some such connection does exist seems intrinsically probable. But the modern meteorologist, learning wisdom of the past, is extremely cautious about ascribing casual effects to astronomical phenomena. He finds it hard to forget that until recently all manner of climatic conditions were associated with phases of the moon; that not so very long ago showers of falling-stars were considered "prognostic" of certain kinds of weather; and that the "equinoctial storm" had been accepted as a verity by every one, until the unfeeling hand of statistics banished it from the earth.

Yet, on the other hand, it is easily within the possibilities that the science of the future may reveal associations between the weather and sun-spots, auroras, and terrestrial magnetism that as yet are hardly dreamed of. Until such time, however, these phenomena must feel themselves very grudgingly admitted to the inner circle of meteorology. More and more this science concerns itself, in our age of concentration and specialization, with weather and climate. Its votaries no longer concern themselves with stars or planets or comets or shooting-stars—once thought the very essence of guides to weather wisdom; and they are even looking askance at the moon, and asking her to show cause why she also should not be excluded from their domain. Equally little do they care for the interior of the earth, since they have learned that the central emanations of heat which Mairan imagined as a main source of aerial warmth can claim no such distinction. Even such problems as why the magnetic pole does not coincide with the geographical, and why the force of terrestrial magnetism decreases from the magnetic poles to the magnetic equator, as Humboldt first discovered that it does, excite them only to lukewarm interest; for magnetism, they say, is not known to have any connection whatever with climate or weather.


There is at least one form of meteor, however, of those that interested our forebears whose meteorological importance they did not overestimate. This is the vapor of water. How great was the interest in this familiar meteor at the beginning of the century is attested by the number of theories then extant regarding it; and these conflicting theories bear witness also to the difficulty with which the familiar phenomenon of the evaporation of water was explained.

Franklin had suggested that air dissolves water much as water dissolves salt, and this theory was still popular, though Deluc had disproved it by showing that water evaporates even more rapidly in a vacuum than in air. Deluc's own theory, borrowed from earlier chemists, was that evaporation is the chemical union of particles of water with particles of the supposititious element heat. Erasmus Darwin combined the two theories, suggesting that the air might hold a variable quantity of vapor in mere solution, and in addition a permanent moiety in chemical combination with caloric.

Undisturbed by these conflicting views, that strangely original genius, John Dalton, afterwards to be known as perhaps the greatest of theoretical chemists, took the question in hand, and solved it by showing that water exists in the air as an utterly independent gas. He reached a partial insight into the matter in 1793, when his first volume of meteorological essays was published; but the full elucidation of the problem came to him in 1801. The merit of his studies was at once recognized, but the tenability of his hypothesis was long and ardently disputed.

While the nature of evaporation was in dispute, as a matter of course the question of precipitation must be equally undetermined. The most famous theory of the period was that formulated by Dr. Hutton in a paper read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and published in the volume of transactions which contained also the same author's epoch-making paper on geology. This "theory of rain" explained precipitation as due to the cooling of a current of saturated air by contact with a colder current, the assumption being that the surplusage of moisture was precipitated in a chemical sense, just as the excess of salt dissolved in hot water is precipitated when the water cools. The idea that the cooling of the saturated air causes the precipitation of its moisture is the germ of truth that renders this paper of Hutton's important. All correct later theories build on this foundation.

"Let us suppose the surface of this earth wholly covered with water," said Hutton, "and that the sun were stationary, being always vertical in one place; then, from the laws of heat and rarefaction, there would be formed a circulation in the atmosphere, flowing from the dark and cold hemisphere to the heated and illuminated place, in all directions, towards the place of the greatest cold.

"As there is for the atmosphere of this earth a constant cooling cause, this fluid body could only arrive at a certain degree of heat; and this would be regularly decreasing from the centre of illumination to the opposite point of the globe, most distant from the light and heat. Between these two regions of extreme heat and cold there would, in every place, be found two streams of air following in opposite directions. If those streams of air, therefore, shall be supposed as both sufficiently saturated with humidity, then, as they are of different temperatures, there would be formed a continual condensation of aqueous vapor, in some middle region of the atmosphere, by the commixtion of part of those two opposite streams.

"Hence there is reason to believe that in this supposed case there would be formed upon the surface of the globe three different regions—the torrid region, the temperate, and the frigid. These three regions would continue stationary; and the operations of each would be continual. In the torrid region, nothing but evaporation and heat would take place; no cloud could be formed, because in changing the transparency of the atmosphere to opacity it would be heated immediately by the operation of light, and thus the condensed water would be again evaporated. But this power of the sun would have a termination; and it is these that would begin the region of temperate heat and of continual rain. It is not probable that the region of temperance would reach far beyond the region of light; and in the hemisphere of darkness there would be found a region of extreme cold and perfect dryness.

"Let us now suppose the earth as turning on its axis in the equinoctial situation. The torrid region would thus be changed into a zone, in which there would be night and day; consequently, here would be much temperance, compared with the torrid region now considered; and here perhaps there would be formed periodical condensation and evaporation of humidity, corresponding to the seasons of night and day. As temperance would thus be introduced into the region of torrid extremity, so would the effect of this change be felt over all the globe, every part of which would now be illuminated, consequently heated in some degree. Thus we would have a line of great heat and evaporation, graduating each way into a point of great cold and congelation. Between these two extremes of heat and cold there would be found in each hemisphere a region of much temperance, in relation to heat, but of much humidity in the atmosphere, perhaps of continual rain and condensation.

"The supposition now formed must appear extremely unfit for making this globe a habitable world in every part; but having thus seen the effect of night and day in temperating the effects of heat and cold in every place, we are now prepared to contemplate the effects of supposing this globe to revolve around the sun with a certain inclination of its axis. By this beautiful contrivance, that comparatively uninhabited globe is now divided into two hemispheres, each of which is thus provided with a summer and a winter season. But our present view is limited to the evaporation and condensation of humidity; and, in this contrivance of the seasons, there must appear an ample provision for those alternate operations in every part; for as the place of the vertical sun is moved alternately from one tropic to the other, heat and cold, the original causes of evaporation and condensation, must be carried over all the globe, producing either annual seasons of rain or diurnal seasons of condensation and evaporation, or both these seasons, more or less—that is, in some degree.

"The original cause of motion in the atmosphere is the influence of the sun heating the surface of the earth exposed to that luminary. We have not supposed that surface to have been of one uniform shape and similar substance; from whence it has followed that the annual propers of the sun, perhaps also the diurnal propers, would produce a regular condensation of rain in certain regions, and the evaporation of humidity in others; and this would have a regular progress in certain determined seasons, and would not vary. But nothing can be more distant from this supposition, that is the natural constitution of the earth; for the globe is composed of sea and land, in no regular shape or mixture, while the surface of the land is also irregular with respect to its elevations and depressions, and various with regard to the humidity and dryness of that part which is exposed to heat as the cause of evaporation. Hence a source of the most valuable motions in the fluid atmosphere with aqueous vapor, more or less, so far as other natural operations will admit; and hence a source of the most irregular commixture of the several parts of this elastic fluid, whether saturated or not with aqueous vapor.

"According to the theory, nothing is required for the production of rain besides the mixture of portions of the atmosphere with humidity, and of mixing the parts that are in different degrees of heat. But we have seen the causes of saturating every portion of the atmosphere with humidity and of mixing the parts which are in different degrees of heat. Consequently, over all the surface of the globe there should happen occasionally rain and evaporation, more or less; and also, in every place, those vicissitudes should be observed to take place with some tendency to regularity, which, however, may be so disturbed as to be hardly distinguishable upon many occasions. Variable winds and variable rains should be found in proportion as each place is situated in an irregular mixture of land and water; whereas regular winds should be found in proportion to the uniformity of the surface; and regular rains in proportion to the regular changes of those winds by which the mixture of the atmosphere necessary to the rain may be produced. But as it will be acknowledged that this is the case in almost all this earth where rain appears according to the conditions here specified, the theory is found to be thus in conformity with nature, and natural appearances are thus explained by the theory."[1]

The next ambitious attempt to explain the phenomena of aqueous meteors was made by Luke Howard, in his remarkable paper on clouds, published in the Philosophical Magazine in 1803—the paper in which the names cirrus, cumulus, stratus, etc., afterwards so universally adopted, were first proposed. In this paper Howard acknowledges his indebtedness to Dalton for the theory of evaporation; yet he still clings to the idea that the vapor, though independent of the air, is combined with particles of caloric. He holds that clouds are composed of vapor that has previously risen from the earth, combating the opinions of those who believe that they are formed by the union of hydrogen and oxygen existing independently in the air; though he agrees with these theorists that electricity has entered largely into the modus operandi of cloud formation. He opposes the opinion of Deluc and De Saussure that clouds are composed of particles of water in the form of hollow vesicles (miniature balloons, in short, perhaps filled with hydrogen), which untenable opinion was a revival of the theory as to the formation of all vapor which Dr. Halley had advocated early in the eighteenth century.

Of particular interest are Howard's views as to the formation of dew, which he explains as caused by the particles of caloric forsaking the vapor to enter the cool body, leaving the water on the surface. This comes as near the truth, perhaps, as could be expected while the old idea as to the materiality of heat held sway. Howard believed, however, that dew is usually formed in the air at some height, and that it settles to the surface, opposing the opinion, which had gained vogue in France and in America (where Noah Webster prominently advocated it), that dew ascends from the earth.

The complete solution of the problem of dew formation— which really involved also the entire question of precipitation of watery vapor in any form—was made by Dr. W. C. Wells, a man of American birth, whose life, however, after boyhood, was spent in Scotland (where as a young man he enjoyed the friendship of David Hume) and in London. Inspired, no doubt, by the researches of Mack, Hutton, and their confreres of that Edinburgh school, Wells made observations on evaporation and precipitation as early as 1784, but other things claimed his attention; and though he asserts that the subject was often in his mind, he did not take it up again in earnest until about 1812.

Meantime the observations on heat of Rumford and Davy and Leslie had cleared the way for a proper interpretation of the facts—about the facts themselves there had long been practical unanimity of opinion. Dr. Black, with his latent-heat observations, had really given the clew to all subsequent discussions of the subject of precipitation of vapor; and from this time on it had been known that heat is taken up when water evaporates, and given out again when it condenses. Dr. Darwin had shown in 1788, in a paper before the Royal Society, that air gives off heat on contracting and takes it up on expanding; and Dalton, in his essay of 1793, had explained this phenomenon as due to the condensation and vaporization of the water contained in the air.

But some curious and puzzling observations which Professor Patrick Wilson, professor of astronomy in the University of Glasgow, had communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1784, and some similar ones made by Mr. Six, of Canterbury, a few years later, had remained unexplained. Both these gentlemen observed that the air is cooler where dew is forming than the air a few feet higher, and they inferred that the dew in forming had taken up heat, in apparent violation of established physical principles.

It remained for Wells, in his memorable paper of 1816, to show that these observers had simply placed the cart before the horse. He made it clear that the air is not cooler because the dew is formed, but that the dew is formed because the air is cooler—having become so through radiation of heat from the solids on which the dew forms. The dew itself, in forming, gives out its latent heat, and so tends to equalize the temperature.

Wells's paper is so admirable an illustration of the lucid presentation of clearly conceived experiments and logical conclusions that we should do it injustice not to present it entire. The author's mention of the observations of Six and Wilson gives added value to his own presentation.

Dr. Wells's Essay on Dew

"I was led in the autumn of 1784, by the event of a rude experiment, to think it probable that the formation of dew is attended with the production of cold. In 1788, a paper on hoar-frost, by Mr. Patrick Wilson, of Glasgow, was published in the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, by which it appeared that this opinion bad been entertained by that gentleman before it had occurred to myself. In the course of the same year, Mr. Six, of Canterbury, mentioned in a paper communicated to the Royal Society that on clear and dewy nights he always found the mercury lower in a thermometer laid upon the ground in a meadow in his neighborhood than it was in a similar thermometer suspended in the air six feet above the former; and that upon one night the difference amounted to five degrees of Fahrenheit's scale. Mr. Six, however, did not suppose, agreeably to the opinion of Mr. Wilson and myself, that the cold was occasioned by the formation of dew, but imagined that it proceeded partly from the low temperature of the air, through which the dew, already formed in the atmosphere, had descended, and partly from the evaporation of moisture from the ground, on which his thermometer had been placed. The conjecture of Mr. Wilson and the observations of Mr. Six, together with many facts which I afterwards learned in the course of reading, strengthened my opinion; but I made no attempt, before the autumn of 1811, to ascertain by experiment if it were just, though it had in the mean time almost daily occurred to my thoughts. Happening, in that season, to be in that country in a clear and calm night, I laid a thermometer upon grass wet with dew, and suspended a second in the air, two feet above the other. An hour afterwards the thermometer on the grass was found to be eight degrees lower, by Fahrenheit's division, than the one in the air. Similar results having been obtained from several similar experiments, made during the same autumn, I determined in the next spring to prosecute the subject with some degree of steadiness, and with that view went frequently to the house of one of my friends who lives in Surrey.

At the end of two months I fancied that I had collected information worthy of being published; but, fortunately, while preparing an account of it I met by accident with a small posthumous work by Mr. Six, printed at Canterbury in 1794, in which are related differences observed on dewy nights between thermometers placed upon grass and others in the air that are much greater than those mentioned in the paper presented by him to the Royal Society in 1788. In this work, too, the cold of the grass is attributed, in agreement with the opinion of Mr. Wilson, altogether to the dew deposited upon it. The value of my own observations appearing to me now much diminished, though they embraced many points left untouched by Mr. Six, I gave up my intentions of making them known. Shortly after, however, upon considering the subject more closely, I began to suspect that Mr. Wilson, Mr. Six, and myself had all committed an error regarding the cold which accompanies dew as an effect of the formation of that fluid. I therefore resumed my experiments, and having by means of them, I think, not only established the justness of my suspicions, but ascertained the real cause both of dew and of several other natural appearances which have hitherto received no sufficient explanation, I venture now to submit to the consideration of the learned an account of some of my labors, without regard to the order of time in which they were performed, and of various conclusions which may be drawn from them, mixed with facts and opinions already published by others:

"There are various occurrences in nature which seem to me strictly allied to dew, though their relation to it be not always at first sight perceivable. The statement and explanation of several of these will form the concluding part of the present essay.

"1. I observed one morning, in winter, that the insides of the panes of glass in the windows of my bedchamber were all of them moist, but that those which had been covered by an inside shutter during the night were much more so than the others which had been uncovered. Supposing that this diversity of appearance depended upon a difference of temperature, I applied the naked bulbs of two delicate thermometers to a covered and uncovered pane; on which I found that the former was three degrees colder than the latter. The air of the chamber, though no fire was kept in it, was at this time eleven and one-half degrees warmer than that without. Similar experiments were made on many other mornings, the results of which were that the warmth of the internal air exceeded that of the external from eight to eighteen degrees, the temperature of the covered panes would be from one to five degrees less than the uncovered; that the covered were sometimes dewed, while the uncovered were dry; that at other times both were free from moisture; that the outsides of the covered and uncovered panes had similar differences with respect to heat, though not so great as those of the inner surfaces; and that no variation in the quantity of these differences was occasioned by the weather's being cloudy or fair, provided the heat of the internal air exceeded that of the external equally in both of those states of the atmosphere.

"The remote reason of these differences did not immediately present itself. I soon, however, saw that the closed shutter shielded the glass which it covered from the heat that was radiated to the windows by the walls and furniture of the room, and thus kept it nearer to the temperature of the external air than those parts could be which, from being uncovered, received the heat emitted to them by the bodies just mentioned.

"In making these experiments, I seldom observed the inside of any pane to be more than a little damped, though it might be from eight to twelve degrees colder than the general mass of the air in the room; while, in the open air, I had often found a great dew to form on substances only three or four degrees colder than the atmosphere. This at first surprised me; but the cause now seems plain. The air of the chamber had once been a portion of the external atmosphere, and had afterwards been heated, when it could receive little accessories to its original moisture. It constantly required being cooled considerably before it was even brought back to its former nearness to repletion with water; whereas the whole external air is commonly, at night, nearly replete with moisture, and therefore readily precipitates dew on bodies only a little colder than itself.

"When the air of a room is warmer than the external atmosphere, the effect of an outside shutter on the temperature of the glass of the window will be directly opposite to what has just been stated; since it must prevent the radiation, into the atmosphere, of the heat of the chamber transmitted through the glass.

"2. Count Rumford appears to have rightly conjectured that the inhabitants of certain hot countries, who sleep at nights on the tops of their houses, are cooled during this exposure by the radiation of their heat to the sky; or, according to his manner of expression, by receiving frigorific rays from the heavens. Another fact of this kind seems to be the greater chill which we often experience upon passing at night from the cover of a house into the air than might have been expected from the cold of the external atmosphere. The cause, indeed, is said to be the quickness of transition from one situation to another. But if this were the whole reason, an equal chill would be felt in the day, when the difference, in point of heat, between the internal and external air was the same as at night, which is not the case. Besides, if I can trust my own observation, the feeling of cold from this cause is more remarkable in a clear than in a cloudy night, and in the country than in towns. The following appears to be the manner in which these things are chiefly to be explained:

"During the day our bodies while in the open air, although not immediately exposed to the sun's rays, are yet constantly deriving heat from them by means of the reflection of the atmosphere. This heat, though it produces little change on the temperature of the air which it traverses, affords us some compensation for the heat which we radiate to the heavens. At night, also, if the sky be overcast, some compensation will be made to us, both in the town and in the country, though in a less degree than during the day, as the clouds will remit towards the earth no inconsiderable quantity of heat. But on a clear night, in an open part of the country, nothing almost can be returned to us from above in place of the heat which we radiate upward. In towns, however, some compensation will be afforded even on the clearest nights for the heat which we lose in the open air by that which is radiated to us from the sun round buildings.

To our loss of heat by radiation at times that we derive little compensation from the radiation of other bodies is probably to be attributed a great part of the hurtful effects of the night air. Descartes says that these are not owing to dew, as was the common opinion of his contemporaries, but to the descent of certain noxious vapors which have been exhaled from the earth during the heat of the day, and are afterwards condensed by the cold of a serene night. The effects in question certainly cannot be occasioned by dew, since that fluid does not form upon a healthy human body in temperate climates; but they may, notwithstanding, arise from the same cause that produces dew on those substances which do not, like the human body, possess the power of generating heat for the supply of what they lose by radiation or any other means."[2]

This explanation made it plain why dew forms on a clear night, when there are no clouds to reflect the radiant heat. Combined with Dalton's theory that vapor is an independent gas, limited in quantity in any given space by the temperature of that space, it solved the problem of the formation of clouds, rain, snow, and hoar-frost. Thus this paper of Wells's closed the epoch of speculation regarding this field of meteorology, as Hutton's paper of 1784 had opened it. The fact that the volume containing Hutton's paper contained also his epoch-making paper on geology finds curiously a duplication in the fact that Wells's volume contained also his essay on Albinism, in which the doctrine of natural selection was for the first time formulated, as Charles Darwin freely admitted after his own efforts had made the doctrine famous.


The very next year after Dr. Wells's paper was published there appeared in France the third volume of the Memoires de Physique et de Chimie de la Societe d'Arcueil, and a new epoch in meteorology was inaugurated. The society in question was numerically an inconsequential band, listing only a dozen members; but every name was a famous one: Arago, Berard, Berthollet, Biot, Chaptal, De Candolle, Dulong, Gay-Lussac, Humboldt, Laplace, Poisson, and Thenard—rare spirits every one. Little danger that the memoirs of such a band would be relegated to the dusty shelves where most proceedings of societies belong—no milk-for-babes fare would be served to such a company.

The particular paper which here interests us closes this third and last volume of memoirs. It is entitled "Des Lignes Isothermes et de la Distribution de la Chaleursurle Globe." The author is Alexander Humboldt. Needless to say, the topic is handled in a masterly manner. The distribution of heat on the surface of the globe, on the mountain-sides, in the interior of the earth; the causes that regulate such distribution; the climatic results—these are the topics discussed. But what gives epochal character to the paper is the introduction of those isothermal lines circling the earth in irregular course, joining together places having the same mean annual temperature, and thus laying the foundation for a science of comparative climatology.

It is true the attempt to study climates comparatively was not new. Mairan had attempted it in those papers in which he developed his bizarre ideas as to central emanations of heat. Euler had brought his profound mathematical genius to bear on the topic, evolving the "extraordinary conclusion that under the equator at midnight the cold ought to be more rigorous than at the poles in winter." And in particular Richard Kirwan, the English chemist, had combined the mathematical and the empirical methods and calculated temperatures for all latitudes. But Humboldt differs from all these predecessors in that he grasps the idea that the basis of all such computations should be not theory, but fact. He drew his isothermal lines not where some occult calculation would locate them on an ideal globe, but where practical tests with the thermometer locate them on our globe as it is. London, for example, lies in the same latitude as the southern extremity of Hudson Bay; but the isotherm of London, as Humboldt outlines it, passes through Cincinnati.

Of course such deviations of climatic conditions between places in the same latitude had long been known. As Humboldt himself observes, the earliest settlers of America were astonished to find themselves subjected to rigors of climate for which their European experience had not at all prepared them. Moreover, sagacious travellers, in particular Cook's companion on his second voyage, young George Forster, had noted as a general principle that the western borders of continents in temperate regions are always warmer than corresponding latitudes of their eastern borders; and of course the general truth of temperatures being milder in the vicinity of the sea than in the interior of continents had long been familiar. But Humboldt's isothermal lines for the first time gave tangibility to these ideas, and made practicable a truly scientific study of comparative climatology.

In studying these lines, particularly as elaborated by further observations, it became clear that they are by no means haphazard in arrangement, but are dependent upon geographical conditions which in most cases are not difficult to determine. Humboldt himself pointed out very clearly the main causes that tend to produce deviations from the average—or, as Dove later on called it, the normal—temperature of any given latitude. For example, the mean annual temperature of a region (referring mainly to the northern hemisphere) is raised by the proximity of a western coast; by a divided configuration of the continent into peninsulas; by the existence of open seas to the north or of radiating continental surfaces to the south; by mountain ranges to shield from cold winds; by the infrequency of swamps to become congealed; by the absence of woods in a dry, sandy soil; and by the serenity of sky in the summer months and the vicinity of an ocean current bringing water which is of a higher temperature than that of the surrounding sea.

Conditions opposite to these tend, of course, correspondingly to lower the temperature. In a word, Humboldt says the climatic distribution of heat depends on the relative distribution of land and sea, and on the "hypsometrical configuration of the continents"; and he urges that "great meteorological phenomena cannot be comprehended when considered independently of geognostic relations"—a truth which, like most other general principles, seems simple enough once it is pointed out.

With that broad sweep of imagination which characterized him, Humboldt speaks of the atmosphere as the "aerial ocean, in the lower strata and on the shoals of which we live," and he studies the atmospheric phenomena always in relation to those of that other ocean of water. In each of these oceans there are vast permanent currents, flowing always in determinate directions, which enormously modify the climatic conditions of every zone. The ocean of air is a vast maelstrom, boiling up always under the influence of the sun's heat at the equator, and flowing as an upper current towards either pole, while an undercurrent from the poles, which becomes the trade-winds, flows towards the equator to supply its place.

But the superheated equatorial air, becoming chilled, descends to the surface in temperate latitudes, and continues its poleward journey as the anti-trade-winds. The trade-winds are deflected towards the west, because in approaching the equator they constantly pass over surfaces of the earth having a greater and greater velocity of rotation, and so, as it were, tend to lag behind— an explanation which Hadley pointed out in 1735, but which was not accepted until Dalton independently worked it out and promulgated it in 1793. For the opposite reason, the anti-trades are deflected towards the east; hence it is that the western, borders of continents in temperate zones are bathed in moist sea-breezes, while their eastern borders lack this cold- dispelling influence.

In the ocean of water the main currents run as more sharply circumscribed streams—veritable rivers in the sea. Of these the best known and most sharply circumscribed is the familiar Gulf Stream, which has its origin in an equatorial current, impelled westward by trade-winds, which is deflected northward in the main at Cape St. Roque, entering the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, to emerge finally through the Strait of Florida, and journey off across the Atlantic to warm the shores of Europe.

Such, at least, is the Gulf Stream as Humboldt understood it. Since his time, however, ocean currents in general, and this one in particular, have been the subject of no end of controversy, it being hotly disputed whether either causes or effects of the Gulf Stream are just what Humboldt, in common with others of his time, conceived them to be. About the middle of the century Lieutenant M. F. Maury, the distinguished American hydrographer and meteorologist, advocated a theory of gravitation as the chief cause of the currents, claiming that difference in density, due to difference in temperature and saltness, would sufficiently account for the oceanic circulation. This theory gained great popularity through the wide circulation of Maury's Physical Geography of the Sea, which is said to have passed through more editions than any other scientific book of the period; but it was ably and vigorously combated by Dr. James Croll, the Scottish geologist, in his Climate and Time, and latterly the old theory that ocean currents are due to the trade-winds has again come into favor. Indeed, very recently a model has been constructed, with the aid of which it is said to have been demonstrated that prevailing winds in the direction of the actual trade-winds would produce such a current as the Gulf Stream.

Meantime, however, it is by no means sure that gravitation does not enter into the case to the extent of producing an insensible general oceanic circulation, independent of the Gulf Stream and similar marked currents, and similar in its larger outlines to the polar- equatorial circulation of the air. The idea of such oceanic circulation was first suggested in detail by Professor Lenz, of St. Petersburg, in 1845, but it was not generally recognized until Dr. Carpenter independently hit upon the idea more than twenty years later. The plausibility of the conception is obvious; yet the alleged fact of such circulation has been hotly disputed, and the question is still sub judice.

But whether or not such general circulation of ocean water takes place, it is beyond dispute that the recognized currents carry an enormous quantity of heat from the tropics towards the poles. Dr. Croll, who has perhaps given more attention to the physics of the subject than almost any other person, computes that the Gulf Stream conveys to the North Atlantic one- fourth as much heat as that body receives directly from the sun, and he argues that were it not for the transportation of heat by this and similar Pacific currents, only a narrow tropical region of the globe would be warm enough for habitation by the existing faunas. Dr. Croll argues that a slight change in the relative values of northern and southern trade-winds (such as he believes has taken place at various periods in the past) would suffice to so alter the equatorial current which now feeds the Gulf Stream that its main bulk would be deflected southward instead of northward, by the angle of Cape St. Roque. Thus the Gulf Stream would be nipped in the bud, and, according to Dr. Croll's estimates, the results would be disastrous for the northern hemisphere. The anti-trades, which now are warmed by the Gulf Stream, would then blow as cold winds across the shores of western Europe, and in all probability a glacial epoch would supervene throughout the northern hemisphere.

The same consequences, so far as Europe is concerned at least, would apparently ensue were the Isthmus of Panama to settle into the sea, allowing the Caribbean current to pass into the Pacific. But the geologist tells us that this isthmus rose at a comparatively recent geological period, though it is hinted that there had been some time previously a temporary land connection between the two continents. Are we to infer, then, that the two Americas in their unions and disunions have juggled with the climate of the other hemisphere? Apparently so, if the estimates made of the influence of the Gulf Stream be tenable. It is a far cry from Panama to Russia. Yet it seems within the possibilities that the meteorologist may learn from the geologist of Central America something that will enable him to explain to the paleontologist of Europe how it chanced that at one time the mammoth and rhinoceros roamed across northern Siberia, while at another time the reindeer and musk-ox browsed along the shores of the Mediterranean.

Possibilities, I said, not probabilities. Yet even the faint glimmer of so alluring a possibility brings home to one with vividness the truth of Humboldt's perspicuous observation that meteorology can be properly comprehended only when studied in connection with the companion sciences. There are no isolated phenomena in nature.


Yet, after all, it is not to be denied that the chief concern of the meteorologist must be with that other medium, the "ocean of air, on the shoals of which we live." For whatever may be accomplished by water currents in the way of conveying heat, it is the wind currents that effect the final distribution of that heat. As Dr. Croll has urged, the waters of the Gulf Stream do not warm the shores of Europe by direct contact, but by warming the anti-trade-winds, which subsequently blow across the continent. And everywhere the heat accumulated by water becomes effectual in modifying climate, not so much by direct radiation as by diffusion through the medium of the air.

This very obvious importance of aerial currents led to their practical study long before meteorology had any title to the rank of science, and Dalton's explanation of the trade-winds had laid the foundation for a science of wind dynamics before the beginning of the nineteenth century. But no substantial further advance in this direction was effected until about 1827, when Heinrich W. Dove, of Konigsberg, afterwards to be known as perhaps the foremost meteorologist of his generation, included the winds among the subjects of his elaborate statistical studies in climatology.

Dove classified the winds as permanent, periodical, and variable. His great discovery was that all winds, of whatever character, and not merely the permanent winds, come under the influence of the earth's rotation in such a way as to be deflected from their course, and hence to take on a gyratory motion—that, in short, all local winds are minor eddies in the great polar-equatorial whirl, and tend to reproduce in miniature the character of that vast maelstrom. For the first time, then, temporary or variable winds were seen to lie within the province of law.

A generation later, Professor William Ferrel, the American meteorologist, who had been led to take up the subject by a perusal of Maury's discourse on ocean winds, formulated a general mathematical law, to the effect that any body moving in a right line along the surface of the earth in any direction tends to have its course deflected, owing to the earth's rotation, to the right hand in the northern and to the left hand in the southern hemisphere. This law had indeed been stated as early as 1835 by the French physicist Poisson, but no one then thought of it as other than a mathematical curiosity; its true significance was only understood after Professor Ferrel had independently rediscovered it (just as Dalton rediscovered Hadley's forgotten law of the trade-winds) and applied it to the motion of wind currents.

Then it became clear that here is a key to the phenomena of atmospheric circulation, from the great polar-equatorial maelstrom which manifests itself in the trade-winds to the most circumscribed riffle which is announced as a local storm. And the more the phenomena were studied, the more striking seemed the parallel between the greater maelstrom and these lesser eddies. Just as the entire atmospheric mass of each hemisphere is seen, when viewed as a whole, to be carried in a great whirl about the pole of that hemisphere, so the local disturbances within this great tide are found always to take the form of whirls about a local storm-centre—which storm-centre, meantime, is carried along in the major current, as one often sees a little whirlpool in the water swept along with the main current of the stream. Sometimes, indeed, the local eddy, caught as it were in an ancillary current of the great polar stream, is deflected from its normal course and may seem to travel against the stream; but such deviations are departures from the rule. In the great majority of cases, for example, in the north temperate zone, a storm-centre (with its attendant local whirl) travels to the northeast, along the main current of the anti-trade-wind, of which it is a part; and though exceptionally its course may be to the southeast instead, it almost never departs so widely from the main channel as to progress to the westward. Thus it is that storms sweeping over the United States can be announced, as a rule, at the seaboard in advance of their coming by telegraphic communication from the interior, while similar storms come to Europe off the ocean unannounced. Hence the more practical availability of the forecasts of weather bureaus in the former country.

But these local whirls, it must be understood, are local only in a very general sense of the word, inasmuch as a single one may be more than a thousand miles in diameter, and a small one is two or three hundred miles across. But quite without regard to the size of the whirl, the air composing it conducts itself always in one of two ways. It never whirls in concentric circles; it always either rushes in towards the centre in a descending spiral, in which case it is called a cyclone, or it spreads out from the centre in a widening spiral, in which case it is called an anti-cyclone. The word cyclone is associated in popular phraseology with a terrific storm, but it has no such restriction in technical usage. A gentle zephyr flowing towards a "storm- centre" is just as much a cyclone to the meteorologist as is the whirl constituting a West-Indian hurricane. Indeed, it is not properly the wind itself that is called the cyclone in either case, but the entire system of whirls—including the storm-centre itself, where there may be no wind at all.

What, then, is this storm-centre? Merely an area of low barometric pressure—an area where the air has become lighter than the air of surrounding regions. Under influence of gravitation the air seeks its level just as water does; so the heavy air comes flowing in from all sides towards the low-pressure area, which thus becomes a "storm-centre." But the inrushing currents never come straight to their mark. In accordance with Ferrel's law, they are deflected to the right, and the result, as will readily be seen, must be a vortex current, which whirls always in one direction—namely, from left to right, or in the direction opposite to that of the hands of a watch held with its face upward. The velocity of the cyclonic currents will depend largely upon the difference in barometric pressure between the storm-centre and the confines of the cyclone system. And the velocity of the currents will determine to some extent the degree of deflection, and hence the exact path of the descending spiral in which the wind approaches the centre. But in every case and in every part of the cyclone system it is true, as Buys Ballot's famous rule first pointed out, that a person standing with his back to the wind has the storm-centre at his left.

The primary cause of the low barometric pressure which marks the storm-centre and establishes the cyclone is expansion of the air through excess of temperature. The heated air, rising into cold upper regions, has a portion of its vapor condensed into clouds, and now a new dynamic factor is added, for each particle of vapor, in condensing, gives up its modicum of latent heat. Each pound of vapor thus liberates, according to Professor Tyndall's estimate, enough heat to melt five pounds of cast iron; so the amount given out where large masses of cloud are forming must enormously add to the convection currents of the air, and hence to the storm-developing power of the forming cyclone. Indeed, one school of meteorologists, of whom Professor Espy was the leader, has held that, without such added increment of energy constantly augmenting the dynamic effects, no storm could long continue in violent action. And it is doubted whether any storm could ever attain, much less continue, the terrific force of that most dreaded of winds of temperate zones, the tornado—a storm which obeys all the laws of cyclones, but differs from ordinary cyclones in having a vortex core only a few feet or yards in diameter— without the aid of those great masses of condensing vapor which always accompany it in the form of storm- clouds.

The anti-cyclone simply reverses the conditions of the cyclone. Its centre is an area of high pressure, and the air rushes out from it in all directions towards surrounding regions of low pressure. As before, all parts of the current will be deflected towards the right, and the result, clearly, is a whirl opposite in direction to that of the cyclone. But here there is a tendency to dissipation rather than to concentration of energy, hence, considered as a storm-generator, the anti- cyclone is of relative insignificance.

In particular the professional meteorologist who conducts a "weather bureau"—as, for example, the chief of the United States signal-service station in New York—is so preoccupied with the observation of this phenomenon that cyclone-hunting might be said to be his chief pursuit. It is for this purpose, in the main, that government weather bureaus or signal- service departments have been established all over the world. Their chief work is to follow up cyclones, with the aid of telegraphic reports, mapping their course and recording the attendant meteorological conditions. Their so-called predictions or forecasts are essentially predications, gaining locally the effect of predictions because the telegraph outstrips the wind.

At only one place on the globe has it been possible as yet for the meteorologist to make long-time forecasts meriting the title of predictions. This is in the middle Ganges Valley of northern India. In this country the climatic conditions are largely dependent upon the periodical winds called monsoons, which blow steadily landward from April to October, and seaward from October to April. The summer monsoons bring the all-essential rains; if they are delayed or restricted in extent, there will be drought and consequent famine. And such restriction of the monsoon is likely to result when there has been an unusually deep or very late snowfall on the Himalayas, because of the lowering of spring temperature by the melting snow. Thus here it is possible, by observing the snowfall in the mountains, to predict with some measure of success the average rainfall of the following summer. The drought of 1896, with the consequent famine and plague that devastated India the following winter, was thus predicted some months in advance.

This is the greatest present triumph of practical meteorology. Nothing like it is yet possible anywhere in temperate zones. But no one can say what may not be possible in times to come, when the data now being gathered all over the world shall at last be co-ordinated, classified, and made the basis of broad inductions. Meteorology is pre-eminently a science of the future.