What Is The Greenhouse Effect? | Greenhouse Effect

What is a greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is one of the things that makes Earth a comfortable place to live.

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.

What are greenhouse gases?

Greenhouse gases are gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat. They let sunlight pass through the atmosphere, but they prevent the heat that the sunlight brings from leaving the atmosphere.

The main greenhouse gases are:

  1. Water vapor
  2. Carbon dioxide
  3. Methane
  4. Ozone
  5. Nitrous oxide
  6. Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees, and other biological materials, 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.
  • 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.
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste, as well as during treatment of wastewater.
  • 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”).

How does the greenhouse effect work?

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. The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the Earth.

As you might expect from the name, the greenhouse effect works … like a greenhouse! A greenhouse is a building with glass walls and a glass roof. Greenhouses are used to grow plants, such as tomatoes and tropical flowers.

A greenhouse stays warm inside, even during the winter. In the daytime, sunlight shines into the greenhouse and warms the plants and air inside. At nighttime, it’s colder outside, but the greenhouse stays pretty warm inside. That’s because the glass walls of the greenhouse trap the Sun’s heat.

The greenhouse effect works much the same way on Earth. Gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, trap heat similar to the glass roof of a greenhouse. These heat-trapping gases are called greenhouse gases.

During the day, the Sun shines through the atmosphere. Earth’s surface warms up in the sunlight. At night, Earth’s surface cools, releasing heat back into the air. But some of the heat is trapped by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That’s what keeps our Earth warm and cozy 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius), on average.

Greenhouse effect

What are the causes of the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect is caused by the atmospheric accumulation of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which contain some of the heat emitted from Earth’s surface. The atmosphere allows most of the visible light from the Sun to pass through and reach Earth’s surface.

Following are the cuases of Greenhouse effect:

  • Burning of Fossil Fuels
  • Deforestation
  • Increase in Population
  • Farming
  • Industrial Waste and Landfills

1. Burning of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas have become an integral part of our life. They are used on large basis to produce electricity and for transportation. When they are burnt, the carbon stored inside them is released which combines with oxygen in the air to create carbon dioxide. With the increase in the population, the number of vehicles have also increased and this has resulted in increase in the pollution in the atmosphere. When these vehicles run, they release carbon dioxide, which is one the main gas responsible for increase in greenhouse effect.

Apart from that, electricity-related emissions are high because we are still dependent on coal for electricity generation which releases large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere and is still the primary source of fuel for generating electricity. Although, renewable sources are catching up, but it may take a while before we can reduce our dependance on coal for electricity generation.

2. Deforestation

Forests hold a major green area on the planet Earth. Plants and trees intake carbon dioxide and release oxygen, through the process of photosynthesis, which is required by humans and animals to survive. Large-scale development has resulted in the cutting down of trees and forests which has forced people to look for alternate places for living. When the wood is burnt, the stored carbon is converted back into carbon dioxide.

3. Increase in Population

Over the last few decades, there has been a huge increase in the population. Now, this has resulted in increased demand for food, cloth, and shelter. New manufacturing hubs have come up cities and towns that release some harmful gases into the atmosphere which increases the greenhouse effect. Also, more people means more usage of fossil fuels which in turn has aggravated the problem.

4. Farming

Nitrous oxide is one the greenhouse gas that is used in fertilizer and contributes to greenhouse effect which in turn leads to global warming.

5. Industrial Waste and Landfills

Industries which are involved in cement production, fertilizers, coal mining activities, oil extraction produce harmful greenhouse gases. Also, landfills filled with garbage produce carbon dioxide and methane gas contributing significantly to greenhouse effect.

Effect of Greenhouse Effect

Greenhouse gases have far-ranging environmental and health effects. They cause climate change by trapping heat, and they also contribute to respiratory disease from smog and air pollution.

Extreme weather, food supply disruptions, and increased wildfires are other effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. The typical weather patterns we’ve grown to expect will change; some species will disappear; others will migrate or grow.

How are humans impacting the greenhouse effect?

Human activities are changing Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. Burning fossil fuels like coal and oil puts more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

NASA has observed increases in the amount of carbon dioxide and some other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Too much of these greenhouse gases can cause Earth’s atmosphere to trap more and more heat. This causes Earth to warm up.

Ways to Reduce Greenhouse Gases | Reduce greenhouse effect

Burning fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, oil and gasoline raises the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and global warming. You can help to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, which in turn reduces global warming, by using energy more wisely.

The following is a list of steps YOU can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Buying products with minimal packaging will help to reduce waste. By recycling half of your household waste, you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

2. Use Less Heat and Air Conditioning

Adding insulation to your walls and installing weather stripping or caulking around doors and windows can lower your heating costs by more than 25 percent, by reducing the amount of energy you need to heat and cool your home.

Turn down the heat while you’re sleeping at night or away during the day, and keep temperatures moderate at all times. Install a programmable thermostat because setting it just 2 degrees lower in winter and higher in summer could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

3. Replace Your Light Bulbs

Wherever practical, replace regular light bulbs with compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs. Replacing just one 60-watt incandescent light bulb with a CFL will save you $30 over the life of the bulb. CFLs also last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, use two-thirds less energy, and give off 70 percent less heat.

If every Canadian family replaced one regular light bulb with a CFL, it would eliminate 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, the same as taking 7.5 million cars off the road.

4. Drive Less and Drive Smart

Less driving means fewer emissions. Besides saving gasoline, walking and biking are great forms of exercise. Explore the York Region Transit system and check out options for carpooling to work or school.

When you do drive, make sure your car is running efficiently. For example, keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Every gallon of gas you save not only helps your budget, but it also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

5. Buy Energy-Efficient Products

Home appliances now come in a range of energy-efficient models, and compact fluorescent bulbs are designed to provide more natural-looking light while using far less energy than standard light bulbs.

6. Use Less Hot Water

Set your water heater at 120 degrees to save energy, and wrap it in an insulating blanket if it is more than 15 years old. Buy low-flow showerheads to save hot water and about 350 pounds of carbon dioxide yearly. Wash your clothes in warm or cold water to reduce your use of hot water and the energy required to produce it. That change alone can save at least 500 pounds of carbon dioxide annually in most households.

7. Use the “Off” Switch

Save electricity and reduce global warming by turning off lights when you leave a room, and using only as much light as you need. And remember to turn off your television, stereo and computer when you’re not using them. It’s also a good idea to turn off the water when you’re not using it. While brushing your teeth, shampooing the dog or washing your car, turn off the water until you actually need it for rinsing.

8. Plant a Tree        

If you have the means to plant a tree, start digging. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. A single tree will absorb approximately one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

9. Get a Report Card from Your Utility Company

Many utility companies provide free home energy audits to help consumers identify areas in their homes that may not be energy efficient. In addition, many utility companies offer rebate programs to help pay for the cost of energy-efficient upgrades.

10. Encourage Others to Conserve

Share information about recycling and energy conservation with your friends, neighbours and co-workers, and take opportunities to encourage public officials to establish programs and policies that are good for the environment.

11. Eating a Plant-Based diet

Learn more about how Eating a plant-based diet (vegan or vegetarian) can help.

FAQ

What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is one of the things that makes Earth a comfortable place to live.

What are the greenhouse gases?

Greenhouse gases are those that absorb and emit infrared radiation in the wavelength range emitted by Earth. Carbon dioxide (0.04%), nitrous oxide, methane, and ozone are trace gases that account for almost 0.1% of Earth’s atmosphere and have an appreciable greenhouse effect.

How does the greenhouse effect work?

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. The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the Earth.

What causes the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect is caused by the atmospheric accumulation of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which contain some of the heat emitted from Earth’s surface. This radiation, unlike visible light, tends to be absorbed by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, raising its temperature.

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