It is widely known nowadays that air pollution attenuates incoming light, particularly sunlight through scattering and absorption of certain wavelengths (both in the UV and visible wavelengths). This attenuation of light is significant to science as it can adversely affect the biosphere.

When was the optical effects of air pollution first measured, and by whom?

  • $\begingroup$ What is it with you and the atmosphere/things-that-could-harm-us? :-) $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 7, 2014 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ Just finding out who the atmosphere/things-that-could-harm-us scientists' shoulders I am standing upon ;) $\endgroup$
    – user22
    Nov 7, 2014 at 13:27

1 Answer 1


My preliminary research starts with the dating of the first scientific studies of air pollution in general. I first cite some dates in a work by E.C. Halliday titled and sourced: A Historical Review of Atmospheric Pollution - Halliday (1961). In this paper, Halliday notes that, while pollution was known to be a social problem starting in the 14th century, "...a scientific review of the history of air pollution cannot commence much before the year 1850.... (pp.9-10)" There are a couple of charts in this paper that enumerate the number of scientific papers by year on the general topic of air pollution, and it appears that the 1950's mark a sudden explosion of scientific research (pp. 11-12).

It appears that the earliest papers dealt mainly with smoke, and control of these sorts of emissions (p. 15). I would not quite call scientific studies into controlling smoke alone scientific studies of optical effects of air pollution, but this motivates me to start hunting after the 1940s.

At this point, and I could be predated here, I have found some early research into the optical effects of air pollution by a meteorologist named Sean Twomey. I found the "Twomey Effect" referred to in recent articles. Twomey's two papers, Pollution and The Planetary Albedo (1974), and The Influence of Pollution on the Shortwave Albedo of Clouds (1976) would be the date to try and predate.

Twomey's papers deal with the influence of pollution on the refractive/reflective properties of clouds and the earth's atmosphere. They are full of mathematical formulas and scientific measurements. Both of those papers fit securely into the topic question of the post, and so I conclude that, at the latest, the 1970's would be the date. I traced through citations in the Twomey papers, as well as papers that cite Twomey, but have yet to find optical studies and measurements on this level dealing specifically with air pollution. For future researchers, this at least gives a date to predate.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, this is spot on - Twomey's papers are very comprehensive and represent a major benchmark in this study. Happy to accept this excellent answer. $\endgroup$
    – user22
    Nov 9, 2014 at 20:40

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