The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface and the lower atmosphere, it results in an elevation of the average surface temperature above what it would be in the absence of the gases.
Solar radiation at the frequencies of visible light largely passes through the atmosphere to warm the planetary surface, which then emits this energy at the lower frequencies of infrared thermal radiation. Infrared radiation is absorbed by greenhouse gases, which in turn re-radiate much of the energy to the surface and lower atmosphere. The mechanism is named after the effect of solar radiation passing through glass and warming a greenhouse, but the way it retains heat is fundamentally different as a greenhouse works by reducing airflow, isolating the warm air inside the structure so that heat is not lost by convection.
If an ideal thermally conductive blackbody was the same distance from the Sun as the Earth is, it would have a temperature of about 5.3 °C. However, since the Earth reflects about 30% of the incoming sunlight, the planet's effective temperature (the temperature of a blackbody that would emit the same amount of radiation) is about −18 °C, about 33°C below the actual surface temperature of about 14 °C. The mechanism that produces this difference between the actual surface temperature and the effective temperature is due to the atmosphere and is known as the greenhouse effect.
Earth’s natural greenhouse effect makes life as we know it possible. However, human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests, have intensified the natural greenhouse effect, causing global warming.
Famous quotes containing the words greenhouse and/or effect:
“There is not enough exercise in this way of life. I try to make up by active gymnastics before I dress when I get up, by walking rapidly in the lower hall and the greenhouse after each meal for perhaps five to ten minutes, and a good hand rubbing before going to bed. I eat moderately; drink one cup of coffee at breakfast and one cup of tea at lunch and no other stimulant. My health is now, and usually, excellent.”
—Rutherford Birchard Hayes (18221893)
“The use of symbols has a certain power of emancipation and exhilaration for all men. We seem to be touched by a wand, which makes us dance and run about happily, like children. We are like persons who come out of a cave or cellar into the open air. This is the effect on us of tropes, fables, oracles, and all poetic forms. Poets are thus liberating gods.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)