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Reading Tip
Paraphrasing is restating
an idea in your own
words. Avoid reusing the
authors words. Pretend
you are explaining the
idea to someone who
does not understand the
original text. Use words
that you understand to
capture the meaning of
the original text.

greenhouse effect:
the warming of Earth
resulting from the ability
of the atmosphere to
trap energy radiated from
Earths surface

On a cold winter night, you might use an extra blanket on

your bed to stay warm. On Earth, the atmosphere acts like
a blanket, keeping temperatures at the surface warmer than
they would be without it. This blanket keeps Earth warm
enough to support life.

What Is the Greenhouse Effect?

In Chapter 8, you learned that the Suns energy drives Earths climate
system. When Earths energy is in balance, global temperatures do
not change. So, what role does the atmosphere play?
The atmosphere allows just over half of the incoming solar energy
to pass through it. As Earths surface absorbs this energy, most of
it is converted into thermal energy. Earths surface warms. Infrared
radiation is released from the surface toward space.
Not all of the radiated energy escapes into space. Certain gases in
the atmosphere trap some of this energy and radiate it back to
Earths surface. This warms Earth even more. This trapping of energy
by gases in the atmosphere is called the greenhouse effect (Figure 1).
Without the greenhouse effect, the average air temperature on
Earths surface would be about 18 C, which is 33 C colder than
it is now. All water on Earth would freeze, and life as we know it
would be unable to survive.
atmosphere containing
NO greenhouse gases

solar energy

atmosphere containing
greenhouse gases

trapped thermal
energy warms
the surface
Figure 1 Without the greenhouse effect, humans and most other living
things on Earth could not survive.
328 Chapter 9 Causes of Climate Change


Greenhouse Gases
The gases in the atmosphere that absorb radiation from Earths
surface are called greenhouse gases. They include carbon dioxide,
water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. These gases
occur naturally in the atmosphere.

greenhouse gas: any

gas in the atmosphere
that traps energy radiated
from Earths surface

Other greenhouse gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, and

hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs, were created by humans during the last
100 years. CFCs and HFCs are used as a coolant in refrigerators,
freezers, and air conditioners. You will learn more about greenhouse
gases associated with human activity in Section 9.5.

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Learning Tip
Very Small Units

For about 650000 years, the amounts of naturally occurring

greenhouse gases did not exceed certain values. For example,
before the industrial age, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide
did not exceed about 280 ppm (parts per million). Today,
atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are approaching 400 ppm.

The term parts per million

(ppm) means out of 1
million. A carbon dioxide
concentration of 280 ppm
means that there are
280 L of carbon dioxide
for every 1000000 L of air.

Carbon Dioxide
Carbon dioxide, CO2, gas is released into the atmosphere by
natural processes. These processes include forest fires and cellular
respiration. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, also emit
carbon dioxide.

The Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle moves
carbon through parts of Earths
surface, living organisms, and
the atmosphere (Figure 2). The
processes of photosynthesis and
cellular respiration are mainly
responsible for the cycling of carbon.
Large quantities of carbon
are not cycled. Instead, they are
stored as carbon-rich deposits
beneath Earths surface.


carbon in

volcanic gases


carbon in

vehicle and factory
and burning

storage in

Figure 2 The carbon cycle


9.1 The Natural Greenhouse Effect 329

Carbon Sinks
A carbon sink absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
and stores it in another form. Forests and oceans are important
carbon sinks. Trees and other plants take in carbon dioxide during
photosynthesis and convert it to other substances. Earths oceans
absorb about one-third of the carbon dioxide released into the

carbon sink: a reservoir

that absorbs large
quantities of carbon
dioxide from the
atmosphere and stores
it in another form

Water Vapour
hydrosphere: all the
water on Earths surface,
below the ground, and in
the atmosphere, including
oceans, lakes, rivers and
streams, icecaps, and
water vapour in the air

Water vapour is the gaseous form of water, H2O. It is part of the

hydrosphere, which includes all the water on and below Earths
surface and in the atmosphere. About two-thirds of Earths natural
greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour.

The Water Cycle

The water cycle keeps the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere
fairly constant. In the water cycle, water enters the atmosphere
through evaporation and transpiration. In the atmosphere, water
vapour cools and condenses, returning to Earths surface as
precipitation, such as rain or snow.
As Earths temperature rises, however, more water will evaporate
to become water vapour. It will trap more energy, which will cause
Earth to become even warmer.

Other Greenhouse Gases

Other natural greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxides,
and ozone (Table 1).
Table 1 Natural Sources of Other Greenhouse Gases

Other issues associated with


Greenhouse gas

Natural sources

methane, CH4

animal digestion; decomposition of

plant and animal matter in marshes
and wetlands

- is 23 times more effective as a

greenhouse gas than CO2
- may be released from permafrost by
increasing global temperatures

nitrous oxide, N2O

breakdown of nitrogen compounds

in soil and water by certain bacteria

- is 300 times more effective as a

greenhouse gas than CO2
- damages the ozone layer

ozone, O3

the reaction in the atmosphere in

which solar energy or lightning
breaks apart oxygen, O2, molecules

- at surface level, is a serious air pollutant

that contributes to smog

330 Chapter 9 Causes of Climate Change


TRY This Keeping an Eye on Concentrations

Skills: Controlling Variables, Performing, Observing, Evaluating, Communicating

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the

atmosphere today is about 0.04 % (400 ppm). In this
activity, you will see if such a small concentration
can make a difference in how radiation, such as light,
travels through a fluid.
Equipment and Materials: lab apron; water;
large beaker (or transparent glass jar); measuring
cup; stirring rod or spoon; water-soluble green or
blue food colouring in dropper bottles
1. Put on your lab apron.
2. Pour 250 mL of water into a transparent glass


3. Using an eyedropper, add 14 drops of food colouring

to the water. This will make the concentration
about 0.04 %.
4. Stir gently until the solution looks uniform.
A. The amount of food colouring you added to the water
was similar to the concentration of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere. How did this concentration affect the
visibility of the water in the glass? T/I
B. How does this simple model show how very small
concentrations of greenhouse gases trap infrared
radiation emitted by Earth? T/I
C. How would the sky look in the daytime if carbon
dioxide could absorb visible light? T/I

9.1 Wrap Up
Certain gases in Earths atmosphere trap energy radiated from Earths
surface. This is called the greenhouse effect.
The greenhouse effect keeps Earths temperature in a range where life
can exist.
The main naturally occurring greenhouse gases are water vapour, carbon
dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.
Carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in
another form. Forests and oceans are important carbon sinks.
The water cycle keeps atmospheric levels of water vapour fairly constant.

CheckYour Learning
1. Draw a diagram to show how the greenhouse
effect works. Use labels to identify and explain
each part of your diagram. K /U C

4. (a) How is the water cycle affected by Earths

changing temperatures? K/U
(b) How might this affect Earths polar regions? T/ I

2. Explain why the greenhouse effect is important to

life on Earth. K /U

5. Give one natural source for each of the following

greenhouse gases:

3. (a) Write a definition in your own words of the term

greenhouse gases.
(b) Name the two most important greenhouse gases
that occur naturally in the atmosphere. K/U C


(a) carbon dioxide

(b) methane
(c) nitrous oxide
(d) water vapour K/U

9.1 The Natural Greenhouse Effect 331