Global Warming and Climate Change

Greenhouse Gases

The atmosphere is a protective layer of gases that spreads all around the surface of the Earth. It acts like a greenhouse, trapping infrared radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface. This means that the Earth can have relatively warm and stable temperatures all the time.

A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs the Sun’s infrared radiation, therefore trapping it in the Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases contribute to the greenhouse effect, which raises the Earth’s average temperature. The main greenhouse gases are:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Methane
  • Water vapour
  • Nitrous oxides
  • CFCs

The Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect is essential for life on Earth, but it also contributes to global warming.

1. The Sun emits heat (infrared radiation) down towards Earth.

2. Some of the heat is absorbed by the atmosphere, while the rest reaches the Earth’s surface.

3. Some of the heat that reaches the Earth’s surface is absorbed and the rest bounces back from the surface.

4. However, most of this heat does not get back into space, as the atmosphere absorbs it instead.

  • This increases the temperature of the atmosphere

An illustrative representation of the greenhouse effect against a blue background. The sun emits rays towards Earth; some are absorbed at the surface, some are reflected back by the surface, and others are reflected back to space by the atmosphere. Over Earth, depicted are clouds and greenhouse gases that trap the heat from the sun. Arrows indicate that human activities release these gases. At the bottom of the image, there are visuals of sources of various greenhouse gases: a cooling unit for CFCs and Haloalkane, a plane and a car for Nitrous oxide, a tractor for Methane, and factories for Carbon dioxide. Above all, the title 'GREENHOUSE EFFECT' is prominently displayed.

Mainly due to human activity, there is a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For example:

  • Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide
  • Raising cattle releases methane into the atmosphere

The more greenhouse gases there are, the greater the greenhouse effect is. This warms up the Earth over time and causes global warming.

Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface.

Consequences of Global Warming

Climate change refers to changes in long-term weather patterns and is a consequence of global warming. As weather conditions change, species that had perfectly adapted to their environment may be forced to migrate.

Some species may migrate and manage to survive in a different environment. However, some may not adapt or migrate fast enough, causing them to become extinct. This will decrease biodiversity.

Two main consequences of global warming for the organisms on Earth are:

  • Global weather patterns will change
  • Rising sea levels

Changing global weather patterns

Extreme weather events, such as floods, hurricanes and droughts, will become more frequent and severe. This will decrease the number of available habitats. It will also make food and water more scarce.

Rising sea levels

A global rise in temperature will cause sea levels to rise. This can happen in two ways:

  • More ice will melt, which will then flow into the ocean.
  • As the ocean heats up, seawater will expand, which will cause sea levels to rise.

Rising sea levels will lead to seasonal flooding, which will decrease the number of available habitats.