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Alphonse Joseph Adhemar


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(1797–1862) French mathematician

Adhemar, who was born and died in Paris, France, was a private mathematics tutor who also produced a number of popular mathematical textbooks.

His most important scientific work was his Les Revolutions de la mer (1842) in which he was the first to propose a plausible mechanism by which astronomical events could produce ice ages on Earth. It had been known for some time that while the Earth moved in an elliptical orbit around the Sun it also rotated about an axis that was tilted to its orbital plane. Because the orbit is elliptical and the Sun is at one focus, the Earth is closer to the Sun at certain times of year. As a result, the southern hemisphere has a slightly longer winter than its northern counterpart. Adhemar saw this as a possible cause of the great Antarctic icesheet for, as this received about 170 hours less solar radiation per year than the Arctic, this could just be sufficient to keep temperatures cold enough to permit the ice to build up.

Adhemar was also aware that the Earth's axis does not always point in the same direction but itself moves around a small circular orbit every 26,000 years. Thus he postulated a 26,000-year cycle developing in the occurrence of glacial periods, but his views received little support.

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