Atmosphere and Weather what is the Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect is the phenomenon of the earth’s atmosphere trapping solar radiation. This is caused by the presence of gases such as water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane, which allows any incoming sunlight to filter through while absorbing heat which is radiated back from the surface of the earth. Atmospheric scientists first used the ‘green house effect’ terminology in the early 1800’s. Back then it was used in to describe naturally occurring functions of trace gases within the atmosphere. Back then the terminology had no negative connotations. It was later in the mid 1950’s that the greenhouse effect was paired with concern in regards to climate change.

Much life on earth relies heavily on energy which is gets from the sun. Approximately 30% of sunlight which would normally beam down on earth, is deflected by the outer atmosphere and sent off into space. What is not deflected, settles on the surface of the earth and is reflected upwards once again and is then deemed a slow energy type of infrared radiation. The heat this causes is then absorbed by what is known as ‘greenhouse gases’ such as carbon dioxide, water vapour, ozone and methane. These green house gases then slows in its escape from the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases make up approximately 1% of the earth’s atmosphere but it aids in regulating the earth’s climate by trapping heat. It then holds this in what many scientists call a ‘warm air blanket’ which encircles the planet. This is what is called ‘the greenhouse effect.’ Without the ‘greenhouse effect, the average temperature on earth would be approximately 39degrees Celsius ( 54 degree Fahrenheit ) colder on earth. The temperature would then be too cold to sustain the current ecosystem.

While scientists state that the greenhouse effect is essential for the environment and life on earth, the old adage “too much of a good thing can be damaging” comes into the equation. Why? Because a vast array of human activities can drastically distort as well as accelerate, the natural process. How? By creating far too many greenhouse gases within the atmosphere.  This can then interferes with temperatures.

So what human activities add to the greenhouses effect?

The burning of natural gas, oil and coal as well as gasoline used for engines. This elevates the levels of carbon dioxide in the air dramatically. A host of farming practices also add to the levels of methane and nitrous oxide. Industrial processing in factories often increases long lasting gases which are not natural. They all contribute to an enhanced greenhouse effect and global warming which we are currently experiencing.

Deforestation is a major contributor to global warming. Trees soak up carbon dioxide while replacing this with oxygen. This aids in creating a balance of gases in the atmosphere. But when more forests are logged for timber, cut down, used for farming, or simply cleared to make way for housing estate, there are less trees to perform this function.

As the world experiences a major population growth, we also notice that this contributes to global warming. It does? Yes, because as the population increases, the more we use fossil fuels for transportation, heating and manufacturing. Thus the level of greenhouse gases then increases. The more we farm, manufacture and so forth, the more greenhouse gases we are sending into the atmosphere. This then means that the earth is trapping more infrared radiation and holding it. The temperature of the earth’s surface and the lower atmosphere then increases.

Surely readers have noticed the drastic change in the earth’s temperature. When one takes into account that during the 20th century, the average global temperature increased by approximately 0.6 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately scientists estimate that by the year 2111 the average global temperature will increase by 1.4 degrees. How did they reach this calculation? By using computer climate models. But not all scientists are in agreement. The majority of scientists do agree that global warming is serious, but some disagree.

John Christy, professor and director of the Earth System Science Centre of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is a climatologist who argues that global warming isn’t worth worrying about. How did he come to this conclusion? Christy analysed millions of measurements from weather satellites in hope of finding a global temperature trend. While doing so, he found no sign of global warming in the satellite data. Therefore he now is of the belief that the predictions of global warming increases of 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the 21st century are incorrect.

The ‘greenhouse effect’ gets a very negative rap due to its contribution to global warming. But without it, human beings would not be able to survive. The ‘greenhouse effect’ will it benefit or hurt mankind in the future?