Green House Effect

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Green House Effect

The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. When the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases.

Process of Green House Effect on Earth

The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. When the Sun’s energy reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and some artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the Earth. This process maintains the Earth’s temperature at around 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it would otherwise be, allowing life on Earth to exist.

The problem we now face is that human activities – particularly burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), agriculture and land clearing – are increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases. This is the enhanced greenhouse effect, which is contributing to warming of the Earth.

Greenhouse effect

Step 1: Solar radiation reaches the Earth’s atmosphere – some of this is reflected back into space.

Step 2: The rest of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the land and the oceans, heating the Earth.

Step 3: Heat radiates from Earth towards space.

Step 4: Some of this heat is trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, keeping the Earth warm enough to sustain life.

Step 5: Human activities such as burning fossil fuels, agriculture and land clearing are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

Step 6: This is trapping extra heat, and causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

Green House Effect versus Planetary Albedo

Atmospheric scientists first used the term ‘greenhouse effect’ in the early 1800s. At that time, it was used to describe the naturally occurring functions of trace gases in the atmosphere and did not have any negative connotations.

It was not until the mid-1950s that the term greenhouse effect was coupled with concern over climate change. And in recent decades, we often hear about the greenhouse effect in somewhat negative terms. The negative concerns are related to the possible impacts of an enhanced greenhouse effect. This is covered in more detail in the Global Climate Change section of this Web site. It is important to remember that without the greenhouse effect, life on earth as we know it would not be possible.

While the earth’s temperature is dependent upon the greenhouse-like action of the atmosphere, the amount of heating and cooling are strongly influenced by several factors just as greenhouses are affected by various factors.

In the atmospheric greenhouse effect, the type of surface that sunlight first encounters is the most important factor. Forests, grasslands, ocean surfaces, ice caps, deserts, and cities all absorb, reflect, and radiate radiation differently. Sunlight falling on a white glacier surface strongly reflects back into space, resulting in minimal heating of the surface and lower atmosphere. Sunlight falling on a dark desert soil is strongly absorbed, on the other hand, and contributes to significant heating of the surface and lower atmosphere.

Cloud cover also affects greenhouse warming by both reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface and by reducing the amount of radiation energy emitted into space. Scientists use the term albedo to define the percentage of solar energy reflected back by a surface. Understanding local, regional, and global albedo effects is critical to predicting global climate change.

Green House effect on higher altitudes

Temperature significantly effects the radiation of heat.  Colder objects radiate less energy, and the Infra-Red absorbing molecules in the atmosphere are colder than the surface.  Therefore it is no surprise that the Infra-Red absorbing molecules in the atmosphere radiate less energy to space than they absorb from the warmer surface.  That difference is the essence of the greenhouse effect.

Green House Gases

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere (or “sequestered”) when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.
  2. Methane (CH4): Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.
  3. Nitrous oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste.
  4. Fluorinated gases: Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for stratospheric ozone-depleting substances (e.g., chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and halons). These gases are typically emitted in smaller quantities, but because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are sometimes referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (“High GWP gases”).


Anti-greenhouse effect

An anti-greenhouse effect on a solar system body has been described, with the help of the organically-rich,thick atmosphere on the moon Titan, which may help in basic studies of the greenhouse effect on Earth. The study provides the first description of a greenhouse and anti-greenhouse effect existing simultaneously, in tension with each other.

The study results define an anti-greenhouse effect that reduces Titan’s surface temperature by 16 degrees Fahrenheit.  The effect is produced by a thick, organic haze in Titan’s upper atmosphere that absorbs solar light, but transmits reflected infrared radiation.Titan’s greenhouse effect, increases the surface temperature by 38 degrees Fahrenheit.  The effect is caused by atmospheric gases reflecting infrared energy back to Titan’s surface.  The surface temperature of Titan, minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit, is therefore 22 degrees warmer than it would be without atmospheric effects.

Ozone Depletion

Ozone layer has been found to be affected by certain natural phenomena such as Sun-spots and stratospheric winds. But this has been found to cause not more than 1-2% depletion of the ozone layer and the effects are also thought to be only temporary. It is also believed that  the major volcanic eruptions, has also contributed towards ozone depletion.

The main cause for the depletion of ozone is determined as excessive release of chlorine and bromine from man-made compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), halons, CH3CCl3 (Methyl chloroform), CCl4 (Carbon tetrachloride), HCFCs (hydro-chlorofluorocarbons), hydrobromofluorocarbons and methyl bromide are found to have direct impact on the depletion of the ozone layer. These are categorized as ozone-depleting substances (ODS).

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