Johann Wolfgang von Goethes Beziehungen zu Luke Howard und sein Wirken auf dem Gebiet der Meteorologie


  • Leibniz-Soziet├Ąt e.V


The great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) started dealing with problems of meteorology in 1815, after he had essentially finished his scientific studies in the fields of geology, mineralogy, botany, comparative anatomy, and theory of light and colors. His interest in meteorology was awakened by Luke Howard's (1772- 1864) famous paper on the modifications of clouds (1803). Goethe took up enthusiastically this morphological cloud classification scheme which was also used in a meteorological observation network established after 1821 under Goethe's supervision in the grand duchy Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. The "simple modifications" stratus, cumulus, cirrus, and nimbus as defined by Howard were described by Goethe in a poem written in honor of Howard. It was published in German as well as in English in Goethe's journal on natural sciences (1820, 1822), together with an autobiographical sketch sent by Howard. Later, a review of Howard's book on the climate of London appeared in the same journal with special reference to the urban heat island effect described for the first time by Howard. Goethe, in his further meteorological studies, developed ideas of a three layer atmospheric stratification which were based upon careful cloud observations. He enlarged and refined Howard's classification, for example by distinguishing between cumulus clouds with horizontal bases and ragged cumulus designated as cumulus fractus nowadays. Goethe was looking for relations between cloud formation, air pressure, wind direction, precipitation and other weather phenomena. Unfortunately, he made an abstruse hypothesis concerning the mechanism of pressure variations. Therefore, Goethe's meteorological studies were ignored widely by meteorologists, but some of his ideas in this field are reflected in his poetic work.