Greenhouse gases are gases that work to keep heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. By doing so, they help keep the temperature on Earth within a livable range for human beings, plant life, and animals. Greenhouse gases are so named because they act in a similar manner to the glass ceiling and walls of a greenhouse. They allow light to penetrate Earth’s atmosphere, but prevent a significant amount of heat from leaving it.
A person may first learn about greenhouse gases during a discussion of the greenhouse effect. Essentially, the greenhouse effect means that temperatures on the Earth increase because of gases that filter energy from the sun, much like the panels of a greenhouse. If these gases did not behave in this manner, more of the heat from the sun would move back out of the Earth’s atmosphere and into space. Scientists theorize that this would leave the Earth considerably colder, with a temperature that averaged around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.55 degrees Celsius).
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Thanks to the effects of greenhouse gases, people are able to live on the Earth, even in places that have colder climates. If these gases failed to trap heat, life would change and severe temperature drops might make Earth less hospitable. There is a flip side to that potential problem, however. Scientists say that a significant increase in the greenhouse gases that help Earth remain warm could cause the planet to become too warm. This could pose problems for animals, humans, and plants as well.
While greenhouse gases are present in Earth’s atmosphere naturally, some scientists have raised concerns about the effects human beings are having on them. For example, some scientists assert that human beings are doing things, such as burning high levels of fossil fuels in cars and factories, which may increase these gases to excessive proportions. Increased gases, they argue, would trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere which otherwise would have escaped. Over time, this may make the Earth excessively warm, a problem that is referred to as global warming.
While scientists cannot be sure exactly what the future holds, some predict that global warming will eventually become a serious problem, perhaps even contributing to the premature extinction of some species. It may, they assert, lead to more dangerous storms and flooding. It may change climates and cause the oceans to rise. It may also lead to more wildfires and droughts. In fact, global warming may cause a decrease in the quality of the air human’s need to survive.
Among the greenhouse gases that are naturally present in Earth’s atmosphere are carbon dioxide, ozone, and methane. Water vapor is a naturally occurring greenhouse gas as well. Through industry, humans create such greenhouse gases as hydrofluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.