Earth Science

Atmospheric Processes

Greenhouse Effect

Study Tip
“Greenhouses” are glass buildings which heat up and provide suitable living conditions for plants by retaining solar radiation in the roofs and walls. Think about the Earth’s greenhouse effect in a similar way.

The Greenhouse Effect

Greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere by trapping heat.

  • Some of the heat that radiates out from the ground is trapped by greenhouse gases in the troposphere.
  • Acts as insulation for the planet
  • Warming of atmosphere because of insulation by greenhouse gases is called greenhouse effect
  • Component of atmosphere that moderate Earth’s temperatures
Study Tip
“Greenhouses” are glass buildings which heat up and provide suitable living conditions for plants by retaining solar radiation in the roofs and walls. Think about the Earth’s greenhouse effect in a similar way.
  • Greenhouse gases have different abilities to trap heat. They include:
  • Carbon dioxide (CO₂)
  • Water (H₂O)
  • Methane (CH₄)
  • Ozone (O₃)
  • Nitrous oxides (NO and NO₂)
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Human activity has significantly raised the levels of many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
  • Methane levels are about 2.5 times higher as a result of human activity
  • Carbon dioxide has increased more than 35%
  • When atmospheric greenhouse gas levels increase, more gases trap more heat and warm the atmosphere
  • Increase or decrease of these gases affects climate and weather
The Earth’s heat budget
The Earth’s heat budget shows the amount of energy coming into and going out of the Earth's system and the importance of the greenhouse effect. The numbers are the amount of energy that is found in one square meter of that location.
Concept Check
  • If you were trying to keep down global temperature and you had a choice between adding 100 methane molecules or 1 CFC-12 molecule to the atmosphere, which would you choose?
  • What is the greenhouse effect?
  • How does Earth's atmosphere resemble a greenhouse?