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Amal Mohamed

Greenhouse Gasses and the Greenhouse Effect

The Greenhouse effect is essentially the process in which the sun’s radiation is trapped in

the lower atmosphere of a planet and unable to leave due to the presence of greenhouse gasses.

This causes a warmer internal temperature on the planet as compared to its surroundings (i.e.,

space). A greenhouse gas is a particular gas in the atmosphere, that in high concentrations, can

cause the greenhouse effect to occur due to its ability to trap heat. There are several greenhouse

gasses. Perhaps, the most infamous greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. This is due to the fact that

increases of CO2 emitted by humans since the industrialization age has increased atmospheric

CO2 by 40% and is considered the leading cause of manmade global warming. As a result,

understanding the Greenhouse effect is very important for our understanding of human impact on

the global temperature and this begins with understanding the different gasses that are involved

in the atmospheric Greenhouse effect.

To start, we’ll discuss the importance of carbon dioxide in the Greenhouse effect. Carbon

dioxide is an essential molecule in all forms of life. Plants intake carbon dioxide and sunlight to

produce glucose and O2. This O2 is then inhaled by animal life and transported within the

circulatory system where it is taken to the body’s tissues, where it is exchanged with CO2 (a by-

product of glucose metabolism), and used to begin the cellular breakdown of glucose into

useable energy (in the form of ATP). The CO2 by-product we exhale into the atmosphere is

eventually taken back by the plants and the ocean. However, other processes release CO2 as well,

including volcanoes and human industrialization. CO2 has properties that cause it to absorb the

outgoing longwave radiation emitted by the sun. Other gasses (e.g., nitrogen, oxygen and argon)
that make up the majority of the air do not have this property and thus play little role in trapping

heat in our atmosphere.

While carbon dioxide makes up the vast majority of the human-made greenhouse gas

emissions, other gases also contribute. These include: methane, nitrous oxide and a group of

fluorinated gases (which include hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and

nitrogen trifluoride). These greenhouse gases are also vital to our understanding of climate

change as well since they are mostly produced by human-made factors, such as industrialization.

Methane is another culprit which is produced largely by coal production and livestock.

Collectively these gases make up the Greenhouse effect, which is naturally occurring and

typically balanced within nature. However, increasing evidence from the last 200 years has

suggested that human activity is largely responsible for an offset of this balance and thus is

leading to an increased trapping of solar radiation in the atmosphere, thus leading to an

unprecedented increase in average global temperature.

To conclude, the atmospheric Greenhouse effect is an essential aspect of Earth’s ability to

sustain life by creating a temperature that is suitable to harbor life. This temperature is set by a

balance of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere and absorbed by the ground (including

plants and oceans). Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas and due to its increased

concentration over the last 200 years by human-caused factors, we’re seeing a rise in global

temperatures. Other gasses, such as methane, are also contributing to offsetting this balance as

well. It is only with studying this natural phenomenon and how we’ve altered it that we can

begin to better understand how we can fix the problem we’ve created.

Mott, V. (n.d.). Introduction to Chemistry. Retrieved from

Mott, V. (n.d.). Introduction to Chemistry. Retrieved from