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What are Global Warming Gases?

By Debra Durkee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Global warming gases, also known as greenhouse gases, are chemical compounds that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, raising the average temperature of the planet. Methane, carbon dioxide, and even water vapor are all on the list of offending gases. These gases are released into the environment by both natural processes and human activities, and many countries have taken steps to limit the human impact on the rise of global warming gases.

Greenhouse gases are so named because the effect they create between the surface of the planet and the atmosphere is similar to that found in a greenhouse. These global warming gases both absorb and emit heat, raising the temperature of the planet. The rise in the amount of these gases in the atmosphere is a result of human activities from the burning of fossil fuels, the increase in industrial emissions, and cutting down the planet's forests. Throughout history, temperature has fluctuated because of natural events such as the eruption of volcanoes and impacts of meteorites.

Perhaps one of the most often overlooked of the global warming gases is water vapor. Continuously produced by natural processes and as a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels, water vapor in the forms of clouds, steam, fog, and haze all help to trap the sun's warmth inside the atmosphere. Water vapor makes up about 70% of all greenhouse gases, and the increasing temperatures of the planet have the added effect of increasing the amount of water that evaporates and is added to the atmosphere.

Methane and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere both by natural processes and by human activities. Methane is released by the burning of fossil fuels and by industrial and waste facilities, as well as by natural sources such as swamps and wetlands. Carbon dioxide, also released by the burning of fossil fuels, is a part of the natural carbon cycle. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, levels of these gases have been constantly on the rise.

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