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While other planets in Earths solar system are either really hot or terribly cold, Earths surface has relatively mild, stable temperatures. This temperature range is based on one of the best-understood processes in the atmospheric sciences, that is the ability of the atmosphere to cloak and protect the planet with a thin layer of gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and, water vapor. These trace gases are relatively transparent to incoming visible light from the sun yet opaque to energy radiated from earth.
However, these gases are nicknamed ‘greenhouse gases’ because of their heat trapping effect. This phenomenon, the greenhouse effect, is what makes earth habitable for life!
Earth is constantly showered with massive amounts of radiation, primarily from the sun. This solar radiation strikes the Earth’s atmosphere in the form of visible light, ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR) and other types of radiation that are invisible to the human eye. According to NASA, about 30 percent of the radiation striking Earth’s atmosphere is immediately reflected back out to space by clouds, ice, snow, sand and other reflective surfaces, and the oceans, land, and atmosphere absorb the remaining 70 percent of incoming solar radiation.
Without the ‘greenhouse gases’ most of the energy from the sun that is transformed into heat at the earth surface would reradiate outwards into space.
The term greenhouse effect was first used from an atmospheric scientist in the early 1800’s and at that time, it was used to define the naturally occurring functions of trace gases in the atmosphere and did not have any negative implications.
It was not until the mid-1950s when the term greenhouse effects became connected to climate change.
The combustion of hydrocarbons is very important in the life of human beings. Combustion reactions requires ignition of the mixture of hydrocarbons and oxygen with a spark of flame, but it is self-sustaining once reaction starts because it is very highly exothermic. It usually results in the breakage of C-H and C-C bonds in the hydrocarbon. Carbon dioxide is produced by combustion of wood and other organic materials and fossil fuels. Today, the use of fossil fuels has been used tremendously to power developing technological and global civilization. As a result, quantities of carbon dioxide have been released back into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased from approximately 280ppm to about 365ppm (General, Organic, and Biochemistry. Pg. 332) which means that about 3 gigatons of carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere every year causing a rising in the earth’s temperature because of the increase in concentration. On the other hand, humans have further increased the levels of greenhouse gases in the air by changing the landscape. Once plants are being cut down often, they will not take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. This gas begins building up in the air rather than fueling the growth of plants. Therefore, by cutting down trees and forests for farmland and other human uses, more carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere.
Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. As the temperature of the atmosphere increases, more water is evaporated from rivers, oceans and, soil. Due to the fact that air is warmer, the absolute humidity can increase leading to more vapors in the atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, the greater concentration of water vapor is then able to absorb more thermal IR energy radiated from the Earth, thus further warming the atmosphere. As water vapor increases in the atmosphere, more of it will condense into the clouds, which is more capable to reflect incoming solar radiation allowing less energy to reach the Earth’s surface and heat it up.
According to NASA “On a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere”. Statistics show that in 2016, methane accounted for about 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities (EPA, Environmental Protection Agency). Methane is also released during the combustion of coal, natural gas, and oil. However, its emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices. There are numerous ways in which methane emission can be reduced, for example, upgrading the equipment used to produce, store, and transport oil can reduce many of the leaks that contribute to methane emissions.
It is understood that as the temperature goes up, the global climate system powered by heat energy should change, although the magnitude and direction of the changes are uncertain. Many atmospheric scientists believe that the global climate is warming partly because of a buildup from fossil-fuel use but the meaning of that warming remains unknown. Most Scientist is clueless as to how it will affect humans and the natural ecosystem. Due to the fact that the climate is complex and influenced by many other factors besides greenhouse gas concentration, this complexity makes it difficult to link and climatic event or characteristics to a single cause. For this reason, controversy exists concerning the danger of global warming caused by greenhouse gases.
Some scientist supports efforts to reverse the buildup of atmospheric gas concentration expecting the global warming to slow. “Currently, some scientists are investigating how to re-engineer the atmosphere to reverse global warming. For example, theories published in the journal Science in July 2017 by lrike Lohmann and Blaž Gasparini, researchers at the Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, proposed reducing cirrus clouds that trap heat”(EPA, Environmental Protection Agency). On the other hand, others feel as if the gases may not be affecting the climate and that the climate changes are apart of natural climatic cycles. They suggest that the efforts to reduce emissions are unnecessary and dangerous to economic growth and development.
While the controversy rages, researchers continue to gather data and evidence to try to increase the certainty of the earth understanding about global warming.
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