By Steve Graham
...In January 1859, (click here) Tyndall began studying the radiative properties of various gases. Part of his experimentation included the construction of the first ratio spectrophotometer, which he used to measure the absorptive powers of gases such as water vapor, "carbonic acid" (now known as carbon dioxide), ozone, and hydrocarbons. Among his most important discoveries were the vast differences in the abilities of "perfectly colorless and invisible gases and vapors" to absorb and transmit radiant heat. He noted that oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen are almost transparent to radiant heat while other gases are quite opaque.
Tyndall's experiments also showed that molecules of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ozone are the best absorbers of heat radiation, and that even in small quantities, these gases absorb much more strongly than the atmosphere itself. He concluded that among the constituents of the atmosphere, water vapor is the strongest absorber of radiant heat and is therefore the most important gas controlling Earth's surface temperature. He said, without water vapor, the Earth's surface would be "held fast in the iron grip of frost." He later speculated on how fluctuations in water vapor and carbon dioxide could be related to climate change....