The first point referred to in this paper is the source of the vapor that condenses to form dew. A short historical sketch is given of the successive theories from time to time advanced on this point, showing how in early times dew was supposed to descend from the heavens, and then afterward it was suggested that it rose from the earth, while Dr. Wells, who has justly been considered the great master of this subject, thought it came neither from above nor from below, but was condensed out of the air near the surface of the earth. He combated Gersten's idea that it rose from the earth, and showed that all the phenomena observed by Gersten and others which were advanced to support this theory could be equally well explained according to the theory that it was simply formed from the vapor present at the time in the air, and which had risen from the ground during the day, and concluded that if any did rise from the ground during night, the quantity must be small, but, with great caution, he adds that "he was not acquainted with any means of determining the proportion of this part to the whole."
A few observations of the temperature of the ground near the surface, and of the air over it, first raised doubts as to the correctness of the now generally received opinion that dew is formed of vapor existing at the time in the air. These observations, made at night, showed the ground at a short distance below the surface to be always hotter than the air over it, and it was thought that so long as this excess is sufficient to keep the temperature of the surface of the ground above the dew point of the air, it will, if moist, give off vapor, and it will be this rising vapor that will condense on the grass and form dew, and not the vapor that was previously present in the air.
The first question to be determined was whether vapor does, or does not, rise from the ground on dewy nights. One method tried of testing this point was by placing over the grass, in an inverted position, shallow trays made of thin metal and painted. These trays were put over the ground to be tested after sunset and examined at night, and also next morning. It was expected that, if vapor was rising from the ground during dewy nights, it would be trapped inside the trays. The result in all the experiments was that the inside was dewed every night, and the grass inside was wetter than that outside. On some nights there was no dew outside the trays, and on all nights the inside deposit was heavier than the outside one.
An analysis of the action of these trays is given, and it is concluded that they act very much the same as if the air was quite still. Under these conditions vapor will rise from the ground so long as the vapor-tension on the surface of the ground is higher than that at the top of the grass, and much of this rising vapor is, under ordinary conditions, carried away by the passing air, and mixed with a large amount of drier air, whereas the vapor rising under the trays is not so diluted; and hence, though only cooled to the same amount as the air outside, it yields a heavier deposit of dew.
Another method of testing this point was employed, which consisted in weighing a small area of the exposed surface of the ground, as it was evident that if the soil gave off vapor during a dewy night, it must lose weight. A small turf about 6 inches (152 mm.) square was cut out of the lawn, and placed in a small shallow pan of about the same size. The pan with its turf, after being carefully weighed, was put out on the lawn in the place where the turf had been cut. It was exposed for some hours while dew was forming, and on these occasions it was always found to lose weight. It was thus evident that vapor was rising from the ground while dew was forming, and therefore the dew found on the grass was formed of part of the rising vapor, trapped or held back by coming into contact with the cold blades of grass.
The difference between these experiments, in which the exposed bodies lose weight, and the well-known ones in which bodies are exposed to radiation, and the amount of dew formed is estimated by the increase in their weight, is pointed out. In the former case, the bodies are in good heat-communication with the ground, whereas in the latter little or no heat is received by conduction from the earth.
Another method employed for determining whether the conditions found in nature were favorable for dew rising from the ground on dewy nights was by observations of the temperatures indicated by two thermometers, one placed on the surface of the grass and the other under the surface, among the stems, but on the top of the soil. The difference in the readings of these two thermometers on dewy nights was found to be very considerable. From 10° to 18° F. was frequently observed. A minimum thermometer placed on, and another under, the grass showed that during the whole night a considerable difference was always maintained. As a result of this difference of temperature, it is evident that vapor will rise from the hotter soil underneath into the colder air above, and some of it will be trapped by coming into contact with the cold grass.
While the experiments were being conducted on grass land, parallel observations were made on bare soil. Over soil the inverted traps collected more dew inside them than those over grass. A small area of soil was spread over a shallow pan, and after being weighed was exposed at the place where the soil had been taken out, to see if bare soil as well as grass lost weight during dewy nights. The result was that on all nights on which the tests were made the soil lost weight, and lost very nearly the same amount as the grass-land.
Another method employed of testing whether vapor is rising from bare soil, or is being condensed upon it, consisted in placing on the soil, and in good contact with it, small pieces of black mirror, or any substance having a surface that shows dewing easily. In this way a small area of the surface of the earth is converted into a hygroscope, and these test surfaces tell us whether the ground is cooled to the dew-point or not. So long as they remain clear and undewed, the surface of the soil is hotter than the dew-point, and vapor is being given off, while if they get dewed, the soil will also be condensing vapor. On all nights observed, these test-surfaces kept clear, and showed the soil to be always giving off vapor.