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What is the Green House Effect and How Does it Impact the Planet?

written by: Lucinda Watrous•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 11/11/2009

Get the basic facts about the greenhouse effect and how it contributes to global warming.

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    What is the Greenhouse Effect?

    The Greenhouse Effect is something that occurs naturally in our environment and contributes to Global Warming. When operating correctly, the greenhouse effect helps to keep the Earth at a livable temperature. Without it, the temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius would become something more like -18 Celsius! For those of us who work in Fahrenheit, that means the Earth would probably be about 60 degrees cooler than it is now!

    The Greenhouse Effect comes from the fact that several different gases that are released into the atmosphere, like methane, water vapor, and carbon dioxide are absorbing long wave radiation that comes from the Earth. It works like this:

    • Energy from the Sun comes through the atmosphere, gets absorbed into the Earth and warms it.
    • Some of this energy gets reflected back into space.
    • Some infrared radiation gets out of the atmosphere and some gets trapped back into the atmosphere through the molecules of greenhouses gases like those mentioned above which in turn creates a heating cycle. It creates a blanket of gases, that will continue to worsen and heat the planet as time goes on.

    So Why is this Bad?

    The Greenhouse Effect adds heat into the Earth’s atmosphere based on the concentration of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Many of these gases have increased in the atmosphere as a result of pollution, which has created more heat in the atmosphere and is causing the Earth to heat up too much, in turn creating problems not only for us humans, but for the animal and plant life we see here on Earth as well.

    While the Greenhouse Effect is something that we need to survive, it is something that we need to get under control before it causes our demise just as it would if we did not have it in the first place.