Greenhouse Gas – What is it anyway?

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Not so long ago were we introduced to the word ?Greenhouse? and it has stayed with us since then.  So what is a Greenhouse gas?  Where can we find these gases in the environment around us?  How does it affect us?  Can countries do anything to stop or rather reduce these greenhouse gases? 


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Greenhouse gases are naturally occurring gases like carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide and water-vapor too.  There are also the anthropogenic gases which are man-made.  These gases when added to the atmosphere as a result of human activities can have serious environmental consequences.  The scientific community seems to be more riveted now than ever about doing more to help save this world.  We will see the implications after we have an understanding of how these gases have an effect on the atmosphere.


As we know Sun is our major source of energy.  Our planet Earth has an outer shield of magnetosphere that blocks some of the solar storms thereby reducing the lower atmosphere from getting heated.  From the sunlight received, some wavelength is reflected back to space, some parts of it is absorbed by the atmosphere.  This light when reflected back towards space from the Earth?s surface goes back as infrared radiation which is heat and the greenhouse gases absorb this infrared radiation and traps the heat in the atmosphere.


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Ever since the Industrial Revolution kicked off in the late 18th or early 19th century, a lot of these greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide have been emitted to the atmosphere by industries.  About 82% of anthropogenic (man-made) gases are known to be carbon dioxide.   Vehicle and even jet emissions in the last few decades are known to have contributed to higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Prior to the Industrial emissions, the main contributors for greenhouse gases were forest fires and volcanic eruptions.  Volcanoes are known to emit a lot of gases into the atmosphere but these are beyond human control. 


One of the buzz words is ‘Global Warming’ which is a direct result of the greenhouse gases that house our atmosphere.  Global warming is the observed increase in the earths atmospheric and ocean temperatures and most of the recent increase in the temperatures due to human activities has been observed in the last 50 years.  They are even known to increase the frequency of extreme weather events like drought, floods, hurricanes and even heat waves which can affect the agricultural yields and even glaciar retreats.  In recent years, a few of the big icebergs sitting in the Arctic and Antartica are known to have seemed to change their shape.  Photos taken a few years back when compared to present day have indicated changes in the ice shape and geographic landmarks. 


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Realizing the serious consequences, even some well known politicians like Ex Vice President Al Gore has been teaming up with the scientists to give the doom and gloom statistics at the UN gathering.  He showed photos of rapidly melting glaciers in Antartica and noted that if half of Greenland and West Antartica melted away, it would have a devastating effect on rising sea levels.  It is estimated that by the year 2100 if temperatures continue to rise at the present rate, it could result in sea level rise of up to 20 feet worldwide.  Such a rise would threaten cities such as London, New York, Bombay and Tokyo.  Not to mention large parts of Bangladesh, Netherlands and even parts of Florida, Louisiana could be inundated.


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I think many would agree that we have seen extreme weather patterns in this lifetime living in India or elsewhere.  So is the rest of the world well informed of the Green house gas emissions and its implications on Global Warming?  Are countries and governments around the world doing enough to keep us and our children and our children?s children and their future environment safe?  Many scientists believe that if we don?t act soon, this process could be irreversible which means future devastations like the ones above could become inevitable.  

Author: Allen Martis- USA


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