Charles David Keeling
Keeling receives the Medal of Science in 2001
Born(1928-04-20)April 20, 1928
DiedJune 20, 2005(2005-06-20) (aged 77)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois
Northwestern University
Known forKeeling Curve
AwardsSecond Half Century Award, American Meteorological Society (1981)
Maurice Ewing Medal (1991)
Blue Planet Prize (1993)
National Medal of Science (2002)
Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2005)
Scientific career
InstitutionsScripps Institution of Oceanography
Doctoral advisorMalcolm Dole

Charles David Keeling (April 20, 1928 – June 20, 2005)[1][2] was an American scientist whose recording of carbon dioxide at the Mauna Loa Observatory[3] confirmed Svante Arrhenius's proposition (1896) of the possibility of anthropogenic contribution to the greenhouse effect and global warming, by documenting the steadily rising carbon dioxide levels. The Keeling Curve measures the progressive buildup of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere.

Early life and early career

Keeling was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Ralph Keeling and Grace L Keeling (née Sherberne). His father, an investment banker, excited interests of astronomy in a 5-year-old Charles, while his mother instilled a lifelong love of music. He graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1948. Charles Keeling earned a PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1953 under Malcolm Dole, a polymer chemist. Most of Dole's graduates were going straight into the oil industry; Keeling "had trouble seeing the future this way" and had become interested in geology, for which he had acquired most of the undergraduate coursework during his PhD. Keeling had applied for postdoctoral positions as a chemist almost exclusively to geology departments "west of the continental divide." He received an offer from Harrison Brown who had recently started a geochemistry department at California Institute of Technology. He was a postdoctoral fellow in geochemistry there until he joined Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1956, and was appointed professor of oceanography there in 1968.[4]

At Caltech he developed the first instrument able to measure carbon dioxide in atmospheric samples with consistently reliable accuracy.[5] Keeling camped at Big Sur where he used his new device to measure the level of carbon dioxide and found that it had risen since the 19th century.

Work with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 1958–2005

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations measured at Mauna Loa Observatory: The Keeling Curve.

Keeling worked at the Scripps Institution for 43 years during which time he published many influential papers.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] Roger Revelle, the Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based at La Jolla, California, persuaded Keeling to continue his work there. Revelle was also one of the founders of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957–58 and Keeling received IGY funding to establish a base on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, two miles (3,000 m) above sea level.

Keeling started collecting carbon dioxide samples at the base in 1958.[3] By 1960, he had established that there are strong seasonal variations in carbon dioxide levels with peak levels reached in the late northern hemisphere winter. A reduction in carbon dioxide followed during spring and early summer each year as plant growth increased in the land-rich northern hemisphere. In 1961, Keeling produced data showing that carbon dioxide levels were rising steadily in what later became known as the "Keeling Curve".

In the early 1960s, the National Science Foundation stopped supporting his research, calling the outcome "routine". Despite this lack of interest, the Foundation used Keeling's research in its warning in 1963 of rapidly increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases. A 1965 report from President Johnson's Science Advisory Committee similarly warned of the dangers of extra heat-trapping gases, which cause the temperature of the Earth to rise.

The data collection started by Keeling and continued at Mauna Loa is the longest continuous record of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the world and is considered a reliable indicator of the global trend in the mid-level troposphere. Keeling's research showed that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide grew from 315 parts per million (ppm) in 1958 to 380 (ppm) in 2005, with increases correlated to fossil fuel emissions. There has also been an increase in seasonal variation in samples from the late 20th century and early 21st century.

Personal life

Keeling was an enthusiastic outdoorsman who made many hiking and camping trips to the Western mountains, particularly the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. He was an active member of the Wilderness Society for much of his life.[15]

Keeling married Louise Barthold in 1954. They had five children, one of whom (Ralph Keeling) followed in his father's footsteps and was a climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Another one of his children, Eric Keeling, currently teaches biology at SUNY New Paltz.[16] Charles Keeling was also an accomplished classical pianist who almost chose a career in music. Keeling was a founding director of the University of California San Diego Madrigal Singers. He was also general chairman of the citizens committee which drafted the Del Mar General Plan (or "Community Plan") in 1975.[17]

Keeling died in 2005, aged 77, of a heart attack.



Keeling was a Guggenheim fellow at the Meteorological Institute, University of Stockholm (1961–62); a guest professor at the Second Physical Institute of the University of Heidelberg (1969–70) and the Physical Institute of the University of Bern (1979–80).

He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

He was a member of the commission on global pollution of the International Association of Meteorology, and scientific director of the Central CO2 Calibration Laboratory of the World Meteorological Organization.

Selected publications

See also


  1. ^ Harris, DC (2010). "Charles David Keeling and the story of atmospheric CO2 measurements". Analytical Chemistry. 82 (19): 7865–70. doi:10.1021/ac1001492. PMID 20536268.
  2. ^ Heimann, M (2005). "Obituary: Charles David Keeling 1928–2005". Nature. 437 (7057): 331. Bibcode:2005Natur.437..331H. doi:10.1038/437331a. PMID 16163339.
  3. ^ a b Rose Kahele. "Behind the Inconvenient Truth". Hana Hou! vol. 10, No. 5, October/November 2007.
  4. ^ Keeling, Charles D. (1998). "Rewards and Penalties of Monitoring the Earth". Annual Review of Energy and the Environment. 23: 25–82. CiteSeerX doi:10.1146/
  5. ^ a b Justin Gillis (December 21, 2010). "A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  6. ^ Keeling, Charles D. (1960). "The Concentration and Isotopic Abundances of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere". Tellus. 12 (2): 200–203. Bibcode:1960Tell...12..200K. doi:10.1111/j.2153-3490.1960.tb01300.x. ISSN 2153-3490.
  7. ^ Nemani, RR; Keeling, CD; Myneni (2003). "Climate-driven increases in global terrestrial net primary production from 1982 to 1999". Science. 300 (5625): 1560–3. Bibcode:2003Sci...300.1560N. CiteSeerX doi:10.1126/science.1082750. PMID 12791990. S2CID 9420050.
  8. ^ Clark, DA; Piper, SC; Keeling, CD; Clark, DB (2003). "Tropical rain forest tree growth and atmospheric carbon dynamics linked to interannual temperature variation during 1984–2000". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 100 (10): 5852–7. doi:10.1073/pnas.0935903100. PMC 156290. PMID 12719545.
  9. ^ Gruber, N; Keeling, CD; Bates, NR (2002). "Interannual variability in the North Atlantic Ocean carbon sink". Science. 298 (5602): 2374–8. Bibcode:2002Sci...298.2374G. doi:10.1126/science.1077077. PMID 12493911. S2CID 6469504.
  10. ^ Keeling, CD; Whorf, TP (2000). "The 1,800-year oceanic tidal cycle: A possible cause of rapid climate change". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 97 (8): 3814–9. Bibcode:2000PNAS...97.3814K. doi:10.1073/pnas.070047197. PMC 18099. PMID 10725399.
  11. ^ Keeling, CD; Whorf, TP (1997). "Possible forcing of global temperature by the oceanic tides". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 94 (16): 8321–8. Bibcode:1997PNAS...94.8321K. doi:10.1073/pnas.94.16.8321. PMC 33744. PMID 11607740.
  12. ^ Keeling, CD (1997). "Climate change and carbon dioxide: An introduction". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 94 (16): 8273–4. Bibcode:1997PNAS...94.8273K. doi:10.1073/pnas.94.16.8273. PMC 33714. PMID 11607732.
  13. ^ Bacastow, RB; Adams, JA; Keeling, CD; Moss, DJ; Whorf, TP; Wong, CS (1980). "Atmospheric carbon dioxide, the southern oscillation, and the weak 1975 el nino". Science. 210 (4465): 66–8. Bibcode:1980Sci...210...66B. doi:10.1126/science.210.4465.66. PMID 17751153. S2CID 42802861.
  14. ^ Keeling, CD (1978). "Atmospheric carbon dioxide in the 19th century". Science. 202 (4372): 1109. Bibcode:1978Sci...202.1109K. doi:10.1126/science.202.4372.1109. PMID 17777967.
  15. ^ Paul M. Keeling, "The Path to Mauna Loa", Wilderness (2008): 12-14
  16. ^ "SUNY New Paltz | Eric Keeling". Retrieved December 17, 2022.
  17. ^ Peter Kaye, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Plaque honors Del Mar planners" (June 24, 2007, retrieved May 25, 2015)
  18. ^ "'M*A*S*H' star takes on global warming in one-man show in Long Beach". Press-Telegram. November 4, 2014. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
  19. ^ “The Keeling Curve Prize rewards a diverse selection of projects reducing greenhouse gas emissions or increasing carbon uptake.” Retrieved October 5, 2019.

Further reading