Was Broecker really the first to use the term Global Warming?

"Global warming" is a term that is most commonly used to describe an increase in global mean surface temperature. Sometimes global warming has been used more broadly to also include temperature evolution in troposphere. In some cases the term has been falsely used in the place of the term "climate change", which has a different meaning. "Climate change" can be any change in climate parameters (for example rainfall or wind) and it doesn't have to be global.

J. Murray Mitchell. Photo from AIP website.

J. Murray Mitchell, Jr. at his home weather station. Photo from Emilio Segrè Visual Archives via AIP website.

The usage of global warming can be traced back at least to 1961 by J. Murray Mitchell Jr. (more on this below). However, NASA has a page by Eric Conway on the terminology which mistakenly claims on the origin of the term global warming:

"Its first use was in a 1975 Science article by geochemist Wallace Broecker of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory: "Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?""

Let us see what earlier papers we can find that used the term. What is interesting, among other things, in Broecker's paper is that it uses both climate change (in the form of climatic change) and global warming in its title. Going further back from the claimed originating year of the term global warming, we somewhat interestingly find Idso (1974):

"Thus, the potential effects of a mean global warming trend upon other climatic elements and some of the earth's established agro-ecosystems are investigated."

What is interesting is that S. B. Idso is well-known by his rejection of anthropogenic global warming, and based on the abstract, this paper seems to be affirming anthropogenic global warming.

Next we encounter Wilkniss and others (1973):

"Increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have been suggested as a cause of ground level global warming through the “greenhouse” effect."

And then Orheim (1972):

"Models proposed to explain climatic changes must account for a global warming from late last century to about 1940, and an antiphase cyclic relationship, characterized by dominant periods of about 11 and about 20 years, in the climatic elements that affect glacier mass balances in middle to high latitudes in the two hemispheres."

Going back further, we find Frisken (1971):

"Sellers [1969] has estimated that by the time we reach the 5% level we should have experienced global warming by more than 10°C, and eventual melting of the polar ice caps."

Going back further still, Park (1970):

"This closely coincided with a distinct global warming trend that led to an increase in world temperature by as much as 1.0°C."

From the same year, Jablonski (1970):

"All of these problems are minimized in the youngest part of the fossil record: the last 5.2 million years since the start of the Pliocene, with their oscillations between glaciations and global warming trends, are being explored in increasing stratigraphic, geochemical, and paleobiological detail (12, 50)."

And then Fletcher (1969):

"Thus, an increase in CO2 increases the so-called "greenhouse effect" and causes global warming."

Malkin (1968):

"But as soon as the ice sheet retreated northward (say, as a result of a global warming trend) and vacated the depression, it again became the site of storm tracks."

Still going further back, and this time taking a larger leap in years, we finally find Mitchell (1961):

"In attempting to identify the ultimate causes of secular climatic variation, it should be ascertained whether this global warming trend has actually leveled off in recent years, as suggested by latter-day studies of Arctic data in the Scandinavian sector (WallCn and Ahlmann, 1955; Hesselberg and Johannessen, 1958) where the warming in earlier years was particularly noticeable."

And this is as far back as I can go. So, we find that global warming has been used at least as early as 1961. As a sidenote, Mitchell uses also the term climatic change in this 1961 paper, and he also uses it in his earlier paper (Mitchell, 1953), so even this limited analysis shows that climatic change/climate change was around earlier as a term than global warming. This of course addresses the false claims that global warming was supposedly switched to climate change in 2000s.

But who was this J. Murray Mitchell Jr.? In his climate research he studied different factors affecting climate, such as aerosols, greenhouse gases, and natural variability. Here are some of the titles and quotes of his papers to give you an idea of his work:

Also, his obituary from The New York Times (1990) reveals a scientist who saw that there was something to worry about in mankind's intrusion on the climate system long before global warming really started happening.


Broecker, Wallace (1975), Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?, Science, vol. 189 (8 August 1975), 460-463.

Conway, Eric (2008), What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change, NASA website, May 12, 2008.

Fletcher, J.O. (1969), MANAGING CLIMATE RESOURCES, DTIC Document AD0684386, Feb 1969.

Frisken, W.R. (1971), Extended industrial revolution and climate change, Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, Volume 52, Issue 7,  pages 500–508, July 1971, DOI: 10.1029/EO052i007p00500.

Idso, S.B. (1974), Climatic effects of increased industrial activity upon the world's established agro-ecosystems, Agro-Ecosystems, Volume 1, 1974, Pages 7–17, doi:10.1016/0304-3746(74)90003-1.

Jablonski, David (1970), Extinctions: A Paleontological Perspective, Science 16 August 1991: Vol. 253  no. 5021  pp. 754-757, DOI: 10.1126/science.253.5021.754.

Malkin, N.R. (1968), The Retreat of the North American Ice Sheet and Shifts in Cyclone Tracks, Soviet Geography, Volume 9,  Issue 10, 1968, DOI:10.1080/00385417.1968.10771051.

McFadden, Robert D. (1990), J. Murray Mitchell, Climatologist Who Foresaw Warming Peril, 62, The New York Times, October 8, 1990.

Mitchell, J.Murray Jr. (1953), On the causes of instrumentally observed secular temperature trends, Journal of Meteorology, 10, 244–261, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/1520-0469(1953)0102.0.CO;2.

Mitchell, J.Murray Jr. (1961), Recent secular changes of global temperature, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 95, Solar Variations, Climatic Change, and Related Geophysical Problems, pages 235–250, October 1961, DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1961.tb50036.x.

Mitchell, J.Murray Jr. (1961b), The Temperature of Cities, Weatherwise, Volume 14,  Issue 6, 1961, pages 224-258, DOI:10.1080/00431672.1961.9930028.

Mitchell, J.Murray Jr. (1971), The Effect of Atmospheric Aerosols on Climate with Special Reference to Temperature near the Earth's Surface, Journal of Applied Meteorology, 10, 703–714, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/1520-0450(1971)0102.0.CO;2.

Mitchell, J.Murray Jr. (1972), The natural breakdown of the present interglacial and its possible intervention by human activities, Quaternary Research, Volume 2, Issue 3, November 1972, Pages 436-445, doi:10.1016/0033-5894(72)90069-5.

Mitchell, J.Murray Jr. (1976), An overview of climatic variability and its causal mechanisms, Quaternary Research, Volume 6, Issue 4, December 1976, Pages 481–493, doi:10.1016/0033-5894(76)90021-1.

Orheim, Olav (1972), A 200-Year Record of Glacier Mass Balance at Deception Island, Southwest Atlantic Ocean, and Its Bearing on Models of Global Climatic Change. Institute of Polar Studies Report No. 42, Research Foundation and the Institute of Polar Studies, The Ohio State University, 118 pages.

Park, G.N. (1970), Palaeoclimatic Change in the Last 1,000 Years, Tuatara: Volume 18, Issue 3, December 1970.

Wilkniss, P.E., Lamontagne, R.A., Larson, R.E., Swinnerton, J.W., Dickson, C.R., Thompson, T. (1973), Atmospheric Trace Gases in the Southern Hemisphere, Nature, 245, 45-47 (17 September 1973) | doi:10.1038/physci245045a0.


Posted by Ari Jokimäki on Wednesday, 30 September, 2015

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.