Greenhouse Gases: How They Work, Why They Matter.
What Is the Greenhouse Effect?
In 1859 British scientist John Tyndall discovered something unique: When sunlight shines through glass or other transparent materials, some of the light passes right through, but much of it bounces off the surface back into space. This phenomenon was called “back radiation.” When you stand outside during daylight hours, your body emits infrared rays invisible to us because they don’t have enough visible-light photons to make them detectable by human eyesight.
What Causes the Greenhouse Effect?
As you might expect, two main factors are responsible for the greenhouse effect: carbon dioxide and water vapor. Carbon dioxide traps infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, while water vapor does the same with visible light. Together they act as an insulating blanket around the globe, trapping heat inside the atmosphere. As temperatures rise, so do levels of both CO2 and H20.
Global Warming Potential: How Much Does Each Gas Trap Heat?
Carbon dioxide traps 80 times more heat than nitrogen. Methane traps 17 times more heat than oxygen. Nitrous oxide traps 300 times more heat than ozone. Water vapor traps 290 times more heat than carbon dioxide. These numbers represent an estimate of the amount of additional heating caused by each gas compared to the same volume of carbon dioxide. They do not account for differences in their lifetimes in the atmosphere.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Emissions are measured in CO2-equivalents, which is a measure that takes into account how much energy it would take to produce one tonne of carbon dioxide. The amount of CO2 emitted by an activity or process can be expressed as tonnes per year, tonnes per hour, tons per day, etc. For example, A car produces about 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per kilometer driven; this means that if you drive 100 kilometers each week, then over 12 years.
Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Emissions from electric utilities decreased slightly over this period due to increasing efficiency improvements at generating facilities. As a result, CO emissions from electric utility operations were less than half what they had been in 1980. Other industries contributing significantly to CO emissions include manufacturing, construction, agriculture, waste disposal, and mining. These sectors experienced increases in CO emissions during the same time frame.
How does the greenhouse effect work?
The sun is a huge source of energy, and it heats everything around us. But some things are better at holding on to their heat than others. The Earth has an invisible layer called the “atmosphere,” which traps most of the heat from the sun. However, other molecules in the air can absorb or reflect sunlight away from the surface of the Earth.
How are humans impacting the greenhouse effect?
Humans have been changing the climate for thousands of years. Humans have cleared forests and built cities that release more pollution than they absorb. This has changed how many different types of atmospheric gases there are around us. Some of these gases act like mirrors or lenses, reflecting light away from the planet. Others help keep the temperature steady. And still, others make clouds form over landmasses, trapping solar energy within them.
What reduces the greenhouse effect on Earth?
The most important thing we do to reduce the greenhouse effect is to stop burning fossil fuels. We need to cut down on emissions of greenhouse gases that come from cars, factories, power plants, and homes. If everyone stopped using gasoline for their car engines tomorrow, there would be less pollution in the air. Less pollution means fewer greenhouse gases in the air. And if people started driving electric or hybrid vehicles instead of gas-powered ones, they could help prevent global warming. This trapped heat warms our planet.