Pollution and Wastes

What is the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect is a warming near Earth’s surface that results when Earth’s atmosphere traps the sun’s heat. The atmosphere acts much like the glass walls and roof of a greenhouse. The effect was described by John Tyndall (1820–1893) in 1861. It was given the greenhouse analogy much later in 1896 by the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius (1859–1927). The greenhouse effect is what makes the earth habitable. Without the presence of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases in the atmosphere, too much heat would escape and the earth would be too cold to sustain life. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases absorb the infrared radiation rising from the earth and hold this heat in the atmosphere instead of reflecting it back into space.

In the twentieth century, the increased buildup of carbon dioxide, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, has been a matter of concern. There is some controversy concerning whether the increase noted in the earth’s average temperature is due to the increased amount of carbon dioxide and other gases, or is due to other causes. Volcanic activity, destruction of the rain forests, use of aerosols, and increased agricultural activity may also be contributing factors.


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