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Greenhouse Effect The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that warms the earth and enables it to support life Without it the average temperature on earth would be around -18 degrees C instead of the current 15 degrees C - a frozen wilderness It works on the same principles as the ordinary glass garden greenhouse where glass allows light to get in but does not allow for the heat to get out This makes for a much higher temperature inside the greenhouse On a planetary scale similar processes occur Light from the sun has no trouble penetrating the atmosphere and reaching the earths surface warming it The earth re-radiates much of this heat in the form of invisible infrared radiation Infrared rays have a longer wavelength than visible light and for this reason can be absorbed by certain gases in the atmosphere labelled greenhouse gases This absorption of heat warms up the atmosphere which in turn radiates some of the heat back to the earth Greenhouse gases include water vapour carbon dioxide CO2 methane CH4 chloroflurocarbons CFCs Ozone O3 and Nitrous Oxide N2O It all seems very straightforward greenhouse gases trap the suns heat warming the planet sufficiently for life to exist There is however one problem human activity has dramatically increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere Over the last two centuries the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased quite significantly mainly as a result of burning fossil fuels for industrial purposes For example atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased from 280-285 parts per million in 1800 to 350 parts per million today Currently the concentration of CO2 is rising by 04 per year Methane has increased from about 750 parts per billion to 1700 parts per billion over the past 200 years and nitrous oxide appears to be increasing at a rate of about 03 per year As the various greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere
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