Definition

Greenhouse Effect

What is the greenhouse effect?

Greenhouse effect refers to the heating of the earth’s surface as well as the lowest layer of the atmosphere due to the presence of greenhouse gases. These gases include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and other fluorinated gases. Some artificial chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are also a major causal factor behind the greenhouse effect.

Greenhouse effect has become a growing concern across global organizations as it is one of the most important climate change issues plaguing the earth. The severity of the issue is evident through rapidly changing climatic conditions and unexpected weather spells in various parts of the world. Additionally, the average temperature of the Earth is said to have increased over the past few decades.

In a nutshell-
  • Greenhouse effect is the rise in the earth’s temperature from the presence of specific energy absorbing gases.
  • Gases like water vapor, methane nitrous oxide as well as certain artificial chemicals like CFCs are called greenhouse gases.
  • Greenhouse effect has led to unnatural weather spells and extreme climatic conditions being observed across regions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does the greenhouse effect work?

The term greenhouse effect was coined to depict a greenhouse being built around the earth. A greenhouse is a glass box in which certain plants are grown like tomatoes and tropical flowers. The reason these plants are placed in a glass case enclosure is because of the ability of the glass to trap the heat.

Once sunlight touches the outer side of the glass panels, it seeps into the enclosure through the glass. However, it remains trapped inside even when temperature outside is cold. Such an enclosure helps plants gain sunlight even in the nighttime and during winters when there is limited sunlight.

In the same way-

The greenhouse gases end up trapping sunlight that enters the earth’s atmosphere. When sunrays pass through the atmosphere, the clouds, ice caps and light-colored surfaces reflect these rays back. However, many of these rays end up reaching the earth’s surface, from where it is almost impossible for them to bounce back into outer space. When these rays bounce from the earth, they reach the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and these gases absorb the reflected heat.

Evidence of this phenomenon is already visible as glaciers and ice caps have been melting across regions leading to untimely floods in valleys beneath these regions.

Which gases contribute to the greenhouse effect?

The gases which entrap sunlight in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. Water vapors form a large part of these gases. The following gases are also accountable for the greenhouse effect:

  1. Methane: Living entities are the biggest source of methane gas. It is triggered by the decomposition of plant matter and by way of livestock. Each methane molecule is more dangerous than a molecule of carbon, though methane emissions are lesser are compared to carbon.
  2. Nitrous Oxide: Nitrous oxide is released from bacteria that is contained in soil. The use of nitrogen-based fertilizers also increases the level of the gas in the atmosphere. Agricultural practices like tiling and soil cultivation, livestock waste management are some other sources.
  3. Carbon Dioxide: The most profusely present harmful gas in the atmosphere is carbon dioxide. This gas is emitted whenever coal, oil, natural gas, and other carbon-rich fossil fuels burn. This not the most harmful greenhouse gas, but its abundance poses a threat to the environment. Countries are adopting methods like going carbon neutral and decarbonizing the production processes by going electric.
  4. Additional gases: These include hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and water vapor.

How are humans adding to the greenhouse effect?

Human activities have added greatly to the pace of the greenhouse effect. The burning of fossil fuels circulates most of these greenhouse gases which trigger off global warming. It has been scientifically observed that the global temperature has increased since the 1800s by 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

During the Industrial Revolution, the burning of fossil fuels and coal rose. This was done to power factories, steam engines and smelters. Most of these methods have been replaced with more suitable modern methods. However, many of these practices of burning fuel continue.

Since the industrial revolution started, till the beginning of the 20th century, the amount of greenhouse gases has risen by roughly 30% and the amount of methane has more than doubled. If it persists, the greenhouse effect can lead to an increase in global temperatures of up to 3-4 degree Celsius compared to 1986-2005 temperatures. Such an increase in temperature could cast spells of drought and rainfall and consequently alter the food production process.

How are greenhouse gases disruptive if they are natural?

Most of the gases that are counted as greenhouse gases are crucial for the natural processes on earth. If maintained at the right level, these gases are extremely critical in keeping the heat level at par on the earth’s surface. Thus, if it were not for these gases, the earth could turn stone cold and habitation on the planet would be impossible.

These gases pose a threat when their concentration reaches a high level. High levels of greenhouse gases cause excessive heat to get trapped into the earth’s atmosphere. Thus, small degrees of heating, cumulated over years leads to adverse weather conditions.

What are the possible solutions to the crisis of greenhouse effect?

Most of the climate change issues can be resolved with simple changes to lifestyle routines. However, certain pressing issues require action on international levels, with countries unanimously working towards the cause. Here are certain measures that can be adopted:

  1. Decarbonizing: Countries must come together to reduce the carbon emissions into the atmosphere, since carbon is the most abundantly present greenhouse gas. This includes reducing dependency on fossil fuels and instead turning towards sustainable forms of energy like solar energy and wind energy.
  2. Lifestyle changes: Going vegetarian or eating less meat could help reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere. Cattle produce high levels of methane, adding greatly to the greenhouse effect.
  3. Stringent policy action: The means to live sustainably are well known and well researched. However, many countries fail to act on them. Countries can provide subsidies to businesses that have low carbon footprint and introduce environment friendly policies.
  4. Planting more trees: Trees are natural sponges in the sense that they absorb greenhouse gases. They are also called the earth’s lungs. Tress require carbon dioxide to survive which is why efforts must be made to discourage deforestation and plant more trees.