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What are Greenhouse Gases?

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Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) trap the infrared radiation coming from the Sun and prevent it from escaping to outer space. They reradiate it back to Earth’s atmosphere. They are responsible for increasing the temperature of the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), Ozone (O3), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), along with water vapour are known as greenhouse gases.

Due to human intervention, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased remarkably causing the greenhouse effect.

List of Greenhouse Gases

The energy coming from the sun is either reflected, transmitted or trapped by Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap energy at longer wavelengths, i.e. infrared regions and increase the temperature.

Greenhouse gases, though present in a trace amount in the atmosphere, cause a considerable greenhouse effect.

Major greenhouse gases are:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Water Vapour
  • Methane
  • Ozone
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Chlorofluorocarbons

Greenhouse Gases Sources

As greenhouse gases are essential for the existence of life, they are present in the atmosphere in a trace amount.

  • Natural sources of GHGs are volcanos, respiration by living organisms, decay and combustion of organic matter, etc.
  • The amounts of GHGs are balanced in the atmosphere naturally by many physical, chemical or biochemical processes such as natural sinks that take-up CO2, e.g. terrestrial vegetation
  • Due to the industrial revolution and human intervention, the amount of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere has drastically increased
  • The main source of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels, coal, petroleum and natural gas
  • Urbanisation, deforestation and soil erosion has also contributed to the increased amount of carbon dioxide
  • Various industries, solid and wastewater management are a source of increased methane. Rice cultivation has contributed considerably to increased greenhouse gases

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Global Warming

The greenhouse effect is essential for the sustainability of life on earth. Had it not been for greenhouse gases, the average temperature of the earth would have been -18℃ in comparison to normal levels, which is 15℃. Although the greenhouse effect is important for the existence of life, it has many repercussions.

A steady increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases has led to global warming. If it is left unchecked, it can increase the average temperature by 5℃ by the end of the century.

Global warming can cause many damaging effects on our environment and ecosystem and can lead to various climatic changes.

  • Melting of polar ice caps can lead to a significant rise in the sea level. It can lead to submerging of low lying coastal areas and islands
  • Oceanic temperature is rising and there is also a significant change in precipitation
  • When the temperature is warmer, there is greater evaporation. It leads to the accumulation of more water vapour in the lower atmosphere, which absorbs infrared radiation and emits it back to the surface
  • Global warming may lead to more unpredictable atmospheric changes. Extreme weather, drought, storms, wildfires, El Nino, etc. may become more frequent
  • It may lead to loss of biodiversity, extinction of species, expansion of deserts and loss of various ecosystems, e.g. marshes and swamps, etc.
  • It can lead to irreversible and irreparable changes leading to the extinction of life

Although we are in a critical situation, we can still reduce global warming and maintain a stable equilibrium by our conscious efforts and save the planet.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the greenhouse effect?

The energy coming from the sun is either reflected, transmitted or trapped by Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap this energy at longer wavelengths, i.e. infrared regions and increase the temperature. The phenomenon that results in this warmer planet is termed the greenhouse effect.

Name any two greenhouse gases?

Carbon dioxide and methane are two of the abundant greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Water vapour is also a major contributor to global warming. The other greenhouse gases include nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs.

Which greenhouse gases produce the maximum greenhouse effect?

Water vapour is the most abundant greenhouse gas that contributes approximately 36-72% to the greenhouse effect. Then comes the carbon dioxide and methane which produces 9-26% and 4-9% effect respectively. Finally, ozone contributes 3-7% to the greenhouse effect.

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