Greenhouse Effect

Table of Contents

Greenhouse Effect Definition

“Greenhouse effect is the process by which radiations from the sun are absorbed by the greenhouse gases and not reflected back into space. This insulates the surface of the earth and prevents it from freezing.”

What is the Greenhouse Effect?

A greenhouse is a house made of glass that can be used to grow plants. The sun’s radiations warm the plants and the air inside the greenhouse. The heat trapped inside can’t escape out and warms the greenhouse which is essential for the growth of the plants. Same is the case in the earth’s atmosphere.

During the day the sun heats up the earth’s atmosphere. At night, when the earth cools down the heat is radiated back into the atmosphere. During this process, the heat is absorbed by the greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. This is what makes the surface of the earth warmer, that makes the survival of living beings on earth possible.

However, due to the increased levels of greenhouse gases, the temperature of the earth has increased considerably. This has led to several drastic effects.

Let us have a look at the greenhouse gases and understand the causes and consequences of greenhouse effects with the help of a diagram.

Also Read: Global Warming

Greenhouse Gases

“Greenhouse gases are the gases that absorb the infrared radiations and create a greenhouse effect. For eg., carbondioxide and chlorofluorocarbons.”

Greenhouse Effect Diagram

Greenhouse gases

The Diagram shows Greenhouse Gases such as carbon dioxide are the primary cause for the Greenhouse Effect


The major contributors to the greenhouse gases are factories, automobiles, deforestation, etc. The increased number of factories and automobiles increases the amount of these gases in the atmosphere. The greenhouse gases never let the radiations escape from the earth and increase the surface temperature of the earth. This then leads to global warming.

Also Read: Our Environment

Causes of Greenhouse Effect

The major causes of the greenhouse effect are:

Burning of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are an important part of our lives. They are widely used in transportation and to produce electricity. Burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide. With the increase in population, the utilization of fossil fuels has increased. This has led to an increase in the release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


Plants and trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Due to the cutting of trees, there is a considerable increase in the greenhouse gases which increases the earth’s temperature.


Nitrous oxide used in fertilizers is one of the contributors to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere.

Industrial Waste and Landfills

The industries and factories produce harmful gases which are released in the atmosphere.

Landfills also release carbon dioxide and methane that adds to the greenhouse gases.



Effects of Greenhouse Effect

The main effects of increased greenhouse gases are:

Global Warming

It is the phenomenon of a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. The main cause for this environmental issue is the increased volumes of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane released by the burning of fossil fuels, emissions from the vehicles, industries and other human activities.

Depletion of  Ozone Layer

Ozone Layer protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. It is found in the upper regions of the stratosphere. The depletion of the ozone layer results in the entry of the harmful UV rays to the earth’s surface that might lead to skin cancer and can also change the climate drastically.

The major cause of this phenomenon is the accumulation of natural greenhouse gases including chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide, methane, etc.

Smog and Air Pollution

Smog is formed by the combination of smoke and fog. It can be caused both by natural means and man-made activities.

In general, smog is generally formed by the accumulation of more greenhouse gases including nitrogen and sulfur oxides. The major contributors to the formation of smog are automobile and industrial emissions, agricultural fires, natural forest fires and the reaction of these chemicals among themselves.

Acidification of Water Bodies

Increase in the total amount of greenhouse gases in the air has turned most of the world’s water bodies acidic. The greenhouse gases mix with the rainwater and fall as acid rain. This leads to the acidification of water bodies.

Also, the rainwater carries the contaminants along with it and falls into the river, streams and lakes thereby causing their acidification.

Runaway Greenhouse Effect

This phenomenon occurs when the planet absorbs more radiation than it can radiate back. Thus, the heat lost from the earth’s surface is less and the temperature of the planet keeps rising. Scientists believe that this phenomenon took place on the surface of Venus billions of years ago.

This phenomenon is believed to have occurred in the following manner:

  • A runaway greenhouse effect arises when the temperature of a planet rises to a level of the boiling point of water. As a result, all the water from the oceans converts into water vapour, which traps more heat coming from the sun and further increases the planet’s temperature. This eventually accelerates the greenhouse effect. This is also called the “positive feedback loop”.
  • There is another scenario giving way to the runaway greenhouse effect. Suppose the temperature rise due to the above causes reaches such a high level that the chemical reactions begin to occur. These chemical reactions drive carbon dioxide from the rocks into the atmosphere. This would heat the surface of the planet which would further accelerate the transfer of carbon dioxide from the rocks to the atmosphere, giving rise to the runaway greenhouse effect.

In simple words, increasing the greenhouse effect gives rise to a runaway greenhouse effect which would increase the temperature of the earth to such an extent that no life will exist in the near future.

Also Read: Environmental Issues

To learn more about what is the greenhouse effect, its definition, causes and effects, keep visiting BYJU’S website or download the BYJU’S app for further reference.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is global warming?

The gradual increase in temperature due to the greenhouse effect caused by pollutants, CFCs and carbon dioxide is called global warming. This phenomenon has disturbed the climatic pattern of the earth.


List gases which are responsible for the greenhouse effect.

The major greenhouse gases are:
1) Carbon dioxide
2) Methane
3) Water
4) Nitrous oxide
5) Ozone
6) Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)


What is the greenhouse effect?

Carbon dioxide and water vapour absorb infrared radiations coming to the earth and partly reflect it back to the earth’s surface. Due to this, the surface of the earth gets heated up. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect.

What are the major causes of the greenhouse effect?

Burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, farming and livestock production all contribute to the greenhouse effect. Industries and factories also play a major role in the release of greenhouse gases.


What would have happened if the greenhouse gases were totally missing in the earth’s atmosphere?

Earth’s most abundant greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, CFCs, and water vapour. These gases are present near the Earth’s surface. They absorb solar energy that is radiated back from the surface of the Earth. The absorption of radiation results in the heating up of the atmosphere. Hence, greenhouse gases are essential for maintaining the temperature of Earth for the sustenance of life.
In the absence of greenhouse gases, the average temperature of Earth will decrease drastically, making it uninhabitable. As a result, life on Earth would be impossible.
Test your Knowledge on Greenhouse Effect Gases


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