The term “Greenhouse Effect” refers to an atmospheric phenomenon whereby certain gases in the atmosphere absorb and retain thermal radiation from the earth’s surface. These gases are collectively referred to as greenhouse gases. When the sun’s rays hit the earth’s surface, some of the radiation is reflected and then trapped by the gases in the lower atmosphere. The phenomenon results in the warming of the lower atmosphere and leads to an increased general atmospheric temperature.
The reason why the reflected radiation is absorbed is because it is in the form of a much lower frequency infrared radiation. The initial rays from the sun have a high frequency and thus cannot be absorbed (Businger and Robert 18). While the greenhouse effect is essential for the survival of many living things on earth, it may end up causing excessive atmospheric warming, a phenomenon commonly referred to as global warming.
The greenhouse effect takes place in a cycle that is diurnal in nature. The warming up of the earth surface takes place during daytime when the sun’s rays hit the earth surface. The sun’s rays arrive at a very high frequency and cannot be trapped by the atmospheric gases. During the night, the atmosphere starts to cool down at a much faster rate compared to the earth surface. This means that the heat begins to be emitted from the earth surface in the form of infrared radiation.
This radiation is at a much lower frequency and does not escape through the atmosphere. Majority of this radiation is trapped by the greenhouse gases and absorbed for re-radiation. This cycle repeats itself every day. The higher the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the higher the atmospheric temperature due to the greenhouse effect (Businger and Robert 18).
The greenhouse effect is slowly becoming an environmental problem because the amount of greenhouse gases has increased in the atmosphere, surpassing the normal levels. There are four main gases that are together classified as the greenhouse gases. These are namely; carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and water vapor. These gases, unlike other atmospheric gases, are made up of two or more different atoms. Diatomic and multi-atomic gases have the capacity to trap and emit infrared radiations.
While this entrapment is essential for the raising of earth temperatures, excessive amounts of gases have resulted in atmospheric problems. The increase in the amount of greenhouse gases is as a result of various activities by man (Houghton et al 44). The largest contributors to man-made greenhouse gases are the industrial processes of combustion which lead to the release of such gases into the atmosphere. These activities have thus made the greenhouse effect an environmental problem that needs to be mitigated.
Even though the greenhouse gases are supposed to make up only 1 percent of the atmospheric gases, this figure is currently higher due to human activities. There are several human activities which have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These activities have also led to an acceleration of the greenhouse effect processes. For instance, the burning of natural gases, coal and oil leads to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
There are also agricultural activities which increase the levels of methane and nitrous oxide in the environment. Both of these gases are greenhouse gases. Deforestation activities have led to an increase in carbon dioxide levels since the gas is no longer being utilized by trees in photosynthesis. Other activities include the industrial wastes from factories, in the form of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
The aforementioned activities clearly indicate that man bears the greatest responsibility in contributing to the negative consequences of the greenhouse effect. Therefore, it is important that man changes his activities and becomes a good steward of the environment around him. There are several ways through which people can help reduce global warming and other negative impacts of accelerated greenhouse effect.
First of all, people can reduce the emission of carbon dioxide by opting to use public transport, cycling or walking to work. People should also practice electricity conservation habits such as switching off light bulbs that are not in use and unplugging idle electronic devices. Power conservation activities that are effective also include the use of energy saving bulbs instead of the traditional incandescent bulbs (Wright and Dorothy 54).
Apart from the activities that reduce the pressure on the available energy resources, people can also practice sustainability activities such as replenishing the depleted resources. For instance, planting of trees will lead to the absorption of the excess carbon dioxide gas in the environment. Also, people should change their agricultural practices by using fertilizers that have little to no nitrous oxide by-products.
The scientific field should also be encouraged to research on alternative energy sources which do not release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Finally, legislation that prevents or regulates the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane, and other chlorofluorocarbons should be supported and passed. Some of these international legislations that are already in effect include the Kyoto Protocol and the Montreal Protocol.
Businger, Joost and Robert Guthrie. An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics. International Geophysics Series, 2nd Ed. San Diego: Academic, 1980.
Houghton, J.T., et al, eds., Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Wright, Richard T. and Dorothy F. Boorse. Environmental Science, Towards a Sustainable Future, 11th edition. Boston, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley, 2010.