John Dalton

John Dalton – Meteorologist in History; Written by: Jenna Hans

Many of us know John Dalton for his Law of Partial Pressures, or maybe his work with the blind. Dalton is responsible for introducing atomic theory and the idea that everything is made up of little particles (atoms), and he even put together the first chart of atomic weights! However, what people might not know is that he was an active meteorologist, weather enthusiast, and that meteorology led Dalton to a lot of these theories and conclusions.

Growing up near the Lake District in northwest England, young John Dalton was among one of the most beautiful and mountainous regions in the UK, making it a great place for him to make meteorological observations. He used various instruments to take measurements of things like temperature, pressure, air circulation, and cloud formation. These measurements along with his observations were recorded in his book Meteorological Observations and Essays that was published in 1793. The book contains more than 200,00 entries, many of which we use in meteorological and climate records today2. In the book he also included guides for students, his thoughts on the composition of the atmosphere, and experiments he conducted.

Throughout the book Dalton outlines many different theories and conclusions he made through his observations, experimentation and research. This led him to publish ground breaking papers on evaporation and its role in the hydrological cycle. He made the statement that rain and dew are equal to the amount of water evaporated, something that was questioned at the time. Not only that, but he developed the evaporation equation (E=K(es-ea)) that is still used today3. He developed his law of partial pressures from atmospheric observations and even developed his 5-part atomic theory from his interest in atmospheric gasses1.For over 50 years Dalton went out to record his weather observations and even made entries from the day before his death in Manchester in 18443. Although his work was barely discussed, he continued to publish papers and books relating to meteorology and chemistry many of which have has stood the tests of time, proving his work to be accurate and ground breaking3. The amazing things that Dalton accomplished prove the importance of studying the natural world and how maybe us weather fanatics and storm chasers have a method to our madness!

  1. Christopher S.W. Koehler, The Atom Man, Chemistry Chronicles, 2003, 51-53
  2. John Dalton: Atoms, Weather, and Vision, SciHistory, 2012
  3. Howard and Sylvia Oliver, Meteorologists Profile-John Dalton, Weather Vol. 58,2003, 206-211