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Heating the Earth with Global Warming

Global warming affects the earth's atmosphere, altering the planet's protection from destructive elements. Global warming is debated throughout the world, with many believing that the population is not doing enough to control global warming's devastating effects. Other people do not believe that global warming exists, even though scientific studies have shown significant changes in the earth's atmosphere to support its threat. Learning about global warming is crucial to everyone, because the planet's future depends on understanding global warming and the steps that must be taken to stop it.

What Is Global Warming?

The meaning behind the term global warming is exact. Global warming means the earth's surface is heating up, both the land and the water. For example, the planet's polar ice caps are melting at a much faster rate than they used to because the earth's overall temperature is hotter. Of the earth's polar regions, the country of Greenland's ice cap is melting the fastest.

Another effect of the earth's increasing surface temperatures is warmer air. The planet's air is actually hotter now than it has been. Many people will attest that temperatures have risen where they live, reaching new highs for their respective climates. Hotter surface temperature and its resulting hotter air are examples of global warming.

What Causes Global Warming?

Elements identified as greenhouse gases cause global warming. Fossil fuel combustion and the destruction of the earth's forest life increase the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment. In small amounts, greenhouse gases are normal in the earth's atmosphere. In fact, they are necessary to keep the planet at a warm and livable temperature.

When the amount of greenhouse gases increases above normal levels, however, the planet becomes warmer. Should the earth get too hot, its entire ecosystem will change significantly, and it is not known if the planet will be able to sustain life. The industrial revolution began increasing the amount of greenhouse gas in the environment, which, in turn, caused a phenomenon known as the "greenhouse effect."

What Is the Greenhouse Effect?

The greenhouse effect is simple: When greenhouse gases are released into the air, they create a thick layer of material in the sky that traps and releases infrared radiation back into the earth's atmosphere rather than allowing it to escape. Although smog is not considered a part of the greenhouse effect, this is a good example of noxious material trapped in the earth's atmosphere. Smog creates a "blanket" that does not allow anything above it, in, or underneath it out.

Much like smog, the greenhouse effect traps infrared radiation. This infrared radiation heats up the earth's surface and air. Another way to look at it is to think of a trampoline. The sun emits solar energy – infrared radiation – down to earth. The earth's surface absorbs this crucial energy to sustain life. Some of that energy is bounced off the earth's surface and back into the universe. The greenhouse effect traps that energy and bounces it back to earth instead.

What Are Greenhouse Gases?

Common greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbon, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and water vapor. Many of these gases are natural to our environment and are only harmful at increased levels. At normal levels, these gases make up a part of the earth's ecosystem. For example, when water vapor is condensed, it turns into clouds, rain, and snow.

Other greenhouse gases, such as chlorofluorocarbon, are chemical compounds, or chemicals produced by two or more natural or manmade elements. When released into the environment, they rest in the atmosphere and do not dissolve. This increases the greenhouse effect. Increased greenhouse gases come from exhaust from vehicles and factories, dairy farming, and the destruction of the rainforests.

What Is the Ozone Layer?

The ozone layer is a lower section of the earth's stratosphere, which is the second layer of the earth's atmosphere. The ozone layer sits about 12 to 19 miles above the earth. The ozone layer plays a critical role in protecting the earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. If the earth were not protected from the full intensity of the sun, it would burn up. The ozone layer absorbs almost 100 percent of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

The greenhouse effect depletes the ozone layer, thinning it out. Many people have noticed that the sun actually feels hotter on their skin when they are outside than it did many years ago. This is because the ozone layer has thinned, allowing more of the sun's UV rays through the ozone layer. Should the ozone layer become too thin, it will no longer be able to protect the earth from UV rays.

What Can We Do to Stop Global Warming?

Transportation is one of the worst villains when it comes to burning fossil fuel and releasing greenhouse gas into the air. Walking or riding a bike takes one less car off the road. Using public transportation also reduces the amount of vehicles. Airplanes use fuel and release gas emissions into the environment. Never fly unless it's absolutely necessary.

Never throw away trash that can be reused or recycled. Non-biodegradable products, such as plastic bottles, release harmful gases into the environment while decomposing in landfills. Using too much energy also releases harmful greenhouse gas. Cutting down on the amount of energy used, and using natural energy sources, such as solar energy, reduces the need to produce energy by burning fossil fuels.

Eat less meat and dairy products. Beef and dairy farming is one of the largest contributors to methane gas in the environment. Eating less beef and dairy products reduces the demand for livestock farming, thereby reducing the amount of methane in the air. Planting trees also helps reverse global warming. Trees absorb excess carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and decreasing the greenhouse effect.