Not too sure? – Check your understanding — Here’s a simple explanation presented in animated video and text.
No 2525 Posted by fw, September 26, 2019
“Carbon dioxide, methane, and other “greenhouse gases” trap heat that would otherwise escape Earth’s atmosphere. In the right proportion, these gases do a critical job ensuring the atmosphere holds onto enough heat to support every kind of life on the planet. Without them, the Earth would lose so much heat that life as we know it would be impossible. The problem arises when greenhouse gas levels get too high because of human activities, trapping too much of the sun’s energy as heat and upset the natural systems that regulate our climate. Things keep getting hotter and hotter and we start seeing more and more extreme weather and other impacts.” —Climate Reality Project
Want to learn more? The above passage is excerpted from a short article about the greenhouse effect, which is reposted below, after an embedded 2-minute animated video also about the greenhouse effect.
Alternatively, to watch the video and read the text on their respective websites, click on their linked titles.
If it were not for greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere, the Earth would be a very cold place. Greenhouse gases keep the Earth warm through a process called the greenhouse effect. The Earth gets energy from the sun in the form of sunlight. The Earth’s surface absorbs some of this energy and heats up. That’s why the surface of a road can feel hot even after the sun has gone down—because it has absorbed a lot of energy from the sun. The Earth cools down by giving off a different form of energy, called infrared radiation. But before all this radiation can escape to outer space, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb some of it, which makes the atmosphere warmer. As the atmosphere gets warmer, it makes the Earth’s surface warmer, too.
To learn more, watch this 2-minute animated video: The Greenhouse Effect
The term “greenhouse effect” is mentioned a lot when we talk about climate change. But what exactly does it mean?
In short: it is the natural process that warms the Earth’s surface.
The process is called the greenhouse effect because the exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation that warms the planet works in a similar way to a greenhouse.
Picture this: a greenhouse is so successful at growing plants year-round, even when it’s too cold outside for some plants to typically thrive. How? Because the air inside the greenhouse naturally stays warmer than the air outside.
A greenhouse is constructed of glass, allowing sunlight to penetrate the exterior and warm the air and plants inside. The heat that isn’t absorbed by plants is trapped by the glass and can’t escape. Throughout daylight hours, sunlight keeps coming through the glass, adding more and more heat energy so the inside gets warmer and warmer (and continues to stay warm after the sun sets).
The Earth and the Sun work in a similar fashion (on a much more massive scale and a different physical process). The sun shines through the Earth’s atmosphere and the earth’s surface warms up. Some of the Sun’s energy is reflected directly back to space, the rest is absorbed by land, ocean, and the atmosphere. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat radiating from Earth toward space.
But here’s where this process presents a problem
Carbon dioxide, methane, and other “greenhouse gases” trap heat that would otherwise escape Earth’s atmosphere. In the right proportion, these gases do a critical job ensuring the atmosphere holds onto enough heat to support every kind of life on the planet. Without them, the Earth would lose so much heat that life as we know it would be impossible.
The problem arises when greenhouse gas levels get too high because of human activities, trapping too much of the sun’s energy as heat and upset the natural systems that regulate our climate. Things keep getting hotter and hotter and we start seeing more and more extreme weather and other impacts.
Even small changes in the global average temperature can cause major and dangerous shifts in climate and weather. Just consider the difference between 0 and 1 degrees Celsius (or 32 and 33 degrees Fahrenheit) – that one degree means the difference between ice and water.
Now imagine that difference happening regularly for months. Imagine it happening in a region that depends on a natural cycle of winter snow building up and precipitation in the spring, feeding streams and rivers and supplying farms and communities with the water they need for everyday life. And that’s just one example.
Plus, burning fossil fuels aren’t the only thing contributing to rising levels of carbon dioxide. Trees are often called the Earth’s lungs, thanks to their incredible ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Deforestation – cutting down trees on a large scale for fuel, land, or other purposes – leads to more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as more trees are burned and fewer are in the ground to absorb excess carbon dioxide.
How big of a deal is this?
We are seeing our world transformed by climate change and if we do nothing, that transformation will be profound. We call this transformation – the process of climate change and its many effects on our world – “the climate crisis.”
The Earth has experienced cycles of warming and cooling in the past, but experts believe the current warming trend is “proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.“
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