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Global Warming And The Greenhouse Effect

937 words - 4 pages

What is the "greenhouse effect?" It is the behavior of solar radiation
when it interacts with gasses in the Earth's atmosphere. The Sun gives
off a wide spectrum of energy which we classify according to its
wavelength. Among the types of energy given off by the sun are
ultraviolet (UV), visible and infrared (IR) wavelengths. UV is short
wavelength high-energy radiation, visible is mid-wavelength,
mid-energy radiation, and IR is long wavelength low-energy radiation.
The atmosphere is mostly transparent to UV and visible light, but some
components of the atmosphere absorb IR energy on its way in toward the
Earth's surface, warming the atmopsphere slightly. When the sun's
energy reaches the surface of the Earth it is absorbed. This warms the
surface, and causes the Earth to emit energy of its own. Unlike the
Sun, however, the Earth does not emit UV or visible light, it ONLY
emits IR energy. As this IR radiation travels back toward space it is
also absorbed by gasses in the atmosphere, particularly CO2, methane
and water vapor.

In this way the Earth's atmosphere acts like the glass in a
greenhouse. The greenhouse lets in the UV and visible light, but once
the interior warms up and IR energy is re-emitted, the glass absorbs
the radiation and does not allow it to escape back to space. This
warms the greenhouse. The fact that all incoming wavelengths are
absorbed by the Earth and re-emitted as IR is the key to the
greenhouse effect, both on the Earth, and in the greenhouse. The
"greenhouse effect" is important to the Earth because it keeps the
planet at a nice, warm, habitable temperature. However, many
scientists, policy makers and citizens are worried that humans are
altering the composition of the atmosphere in such a way as to enhance
the greenhouse effect and cause undesirable global warming.

A balance between energy coming in from the sun in the form of visible
radiation (sunlight) and energy constantly being emitted from the
surface of the earth to space determines the temperature of the earth.
The energy coming in from the sun can pass through the atmosphere
almost unchanged and warm the earth, but the infrared radiation
emanating from the earth's surface is partly absorbed by some gases in
the atmosphere and some of it is re-emitted downwards. This further
warms the surface of the earth and the lower atmosphere. The gases
that do...

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