Enhanced Greenhouse Gas Effect

Climate, Forests and Woodlands March 31, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF
Excerpt from the Southwest Climate Change Network, written by Zack Guido, University of Arizona

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor, are naturally part of the Earth’s atmosphere. These gases tap heat from the sun’s radiation in the atmosphere and act as powerful amplifiers of temperature. The natural greenhouse gas effect (Figure 1) helps to elevate the average temperature in the lower atmosphere to a comfortable 60 degrees F. Without GHGs, average atmosphere temperatures would fall below the freezing point of water at approximately 32 degrees F.

Figure 1. An idealized model of the natural greenhouse gas effect. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The enhanced GHG effect occurs when gases such as carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere in quantities that increase temperature. Usually, the implication is that the sources for these additional quantities stem from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels.

Adapted for eXtension.org by Michael Crimmins, University Arizona

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Southwest Climate Change Network

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.