Forming Fossils

In the Beginning

What is the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect, as its name implies, describes a warming phenomenon. In a greenhouse structure, closed glass windows cause heat to become trapped inside. The greenhouse effect functions in a similar manner, but on a planetary scale. In general, it occurs when the planet’s atmosphere allows heat from the Sun to enter but refuses to let it leave.

Without this greenhouse effect on Earth, life as we know it would not exist. On our planet, solar radiation passes through the atmosphere and strikes the surface. As it is reflected back toward space, some solar radiation is trapped by atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and water vapor, resulting in the gradual increase of Earth’s temperatures. The rest of the radiation escapes back into space. Without this heat, life as we know it would be impossible, Earth would be about 100 degrees cooler, and the oceans would freeze.


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