The Mysterious Climate Project – Part IV
Those Incredible Greenhouse Gases
In the preceding chapter, we discussed the troposphere and identified it as the atmospheric layer containing Planet Earth’s greenhouse gases. We also identified nature’s greenhouse gases as1:
- Water vapor, the most powerful of all greenhouse gases: 95.00%
- Carbon Dioxide: 3.62%
- Methane: 0.36%
- Nitrous Oxide: 0.95%
- CFC’s and other miscellaneous gases: 0.07%
Although scientists have been studying Earth’s atmosphere for centuries, it is only recently that a clearer understanding of its many functions have begun to emerge. But even today with all our advanced instrumentation and techniques, our knowledge of this critical area seems to be only scratching the surface. Yet in spite of this lack of knowledge surrounding our atmosphere, certain individuals and groups are suggesting various ways to tamper with it.
In this section of “The Mysterious Climate Project,” we’ll continue exploring the tiny greenhouse gas category and begin unraveling how such minor amounts of atmospheric gases can have such major impacts on planet Earth’s atmosphere.
Greenhouse Gas Theory – A Bit Of History
The theory that gases in the atmosphere might increase Planet Earth’s temperature was first postulated by Joseph Fourier in 1827, a scientist who also seems to have coined the term “greenhouse gases.” But it wasn’t until 1896 that a research chemist by the name of Svante Arrhenius quantified the greenhouse gas theory and apparently coined the term “greenhouse effect.”
Between 1896 and the mid 1950’s, the greenhouse gas theory was resurrected on several occasions but had short life spans. Then in 1979, the UK Ambassador to the United Nations, a man by the name of Crispin Tickell, convinced the newly elected Prime Minister of England she could use the subject to gain stature on the world stage. Within a few years, a frenzied media, along with certain individuals, proclaimed we were headed into another ice age.
In the 1980’s, politician and environmental activist Al Gore proclaimed it wasn’t global cooling after all, but rather global warming. And that started yet another frenzy… a frenzy which has continued to this very day.
How The Greenhouse Effect Works
The greenhouse effect allows incoming solar radiation to reach Earth while simultaneously restricting Earth’s heat from escaping to space. In layman’s terms, sunlight passes through the atmosphere and warms Planet Earth. Earth then radiates the newly absorbed energy back towards space where it encounters our greenhouse gases. These gases absorb part of the energy while leaving the remainder escape to space. Without this effect, Planet Earth would be a very, very cold place!
That Lucky Ol’ Sun!
As the sun’s solar radiation enters our atmosphere as visible light, approximately 30% is reflected back into space while the remaining 70% passes on through to Planet Earth.
Of that 70% passing on through, 4% is absorbed by our clouds, 23% by our atmosphere, and 73% by our land masses and oceans. During the absorption process, the solar radiation changes character by being transformed into heat energy. This transformation enables it to heat our atmosphere, land masses, and oceans.
Once the transformation into heat energy occurs, it becomes available for re-entry into our atmosphere through a process called infrared radiation. But without any barriers, this same process would allow earth’s heat to quickly leave our clouds, atmosphere, land masses, and oceans to escape out to space.
The physics behind this phenomenon involves the molecular behavior of certain atmospheric gases and the manner in which these gases react to the differences in wavelengths between incoming solar radiation and heat coming from earth in the form of infrared radiation.
The wavelength from incoming solar radiation has a characteristic which basically makes it visible to us, but invisible to our greenhouse gases. At the same time, the wavelength of outgoing infrared radiation departing Planet Earth makes it invisible to us but visible to greenhouse gases, gases which tend to slow its departure out to space. This process serves to keep enough heat in our atmosphere, clouds, and Earth to help achieve our “goldilocks” atmosphere.
Although fully describing the mechanics of this process is beyond the scope of “The Mysterious Climate Project” series, the following analogies will help in gaining a better understanding on how the release of heat to space is regulated by greenhouse gases.
A Down To Earth Analogy
In our analogy, we’ll use three ovens, each with different characteristics. In each oven, we’ll place a thick, heat absorbing ceramic plate on the middle rack. Each oven and plate will then be heated to 350 degrees and left idling for a couple of hours to insure temperature uniformity. Thereafter, the oven will be turned on and off every two hours to represent our accelerated day/night cycle.
The oven’s interior represents a planet’s atmosphere, the walls and door represent greenhouse gases, and the ceramic plate represents our planet.
Now, we’re going to perform three experiments:
- The first oven has thick, well insulated walls and a thick, well insulated, tight fitting door.
This is analogous to a planet with a thick layer of insulating greenhouse gases. As day turns into night (heat turned off), the atmosphere (oven’s interior) and the planet (ceramic plate) retain most of their heat by virtue of the heavy insulation and tight fitting door (thick greenhouse gases). Welcome to super hot, Planet Venus!
- The second oven has poorly insulated walls and a poorly insulated, warped oven door.
This is analogous to a planet with a thin to non-existent layer of insulating greenhouse gases. As day turns into night (heat turned off), the atmosphere (oven’s interior) and the planet (ceramic plate) would lose most of their heat by virtue of the poor insulation and warped door (thin to non-existent greenhouse gases). Welcome to super cold, Planet Mars!
- The third oven has “just right” insulation and a “just right” fitting, insulated door.
This is analogous to a planet with a “just right” layer of insulating greenhouse gases. As day turns into night (heat turned off), the atmosphere (oven’s interior) and the planet (ceramic plate) would retain just enough of their heat by virtue of the “just right” insulation and the “just right” oven door (“just right” greenhouse gases). Welcome to the “goldilocks” atmosphere of Planet Earth!
Although the above three analogies provide an idea on how the “greenhouse effect” operates, don’t think for a minute you’re now an atmospheric physicist!
On The More Technical Side…
Although the oven analogy sheds some light on how greenhouse gases operate, in reality it’s not quite that simple.
Let’s examine greenhouse gases from a more technical standpoint, using carbon dioxide as our subject. Carbon dioxide contains one carbon atom with an oxygen atom bonded to each side. With the atoms bonded tightly together in this manner, the carbon dioxide molecule is indifferent to the heat from solar radiation but can absorb the heat from infrared radiation coming from earth. Once earth’s infrared radiation is absorbed, the carbon dioxide molecule generally gets “excited” and starts vibrating. Once the molecule begins vibrating, it is apt to shed the just acquired infrared radiation, allowing the heat to escape to space, re-radiate to earth, or be absorbed by yet another greenhouse gas molecule in Nature’s never ending absorption-emission-absorption orgy.
Welcome, to the greenhouse effect!
Carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases are only part of the complex equation impacting earth’s climate. Other parts maintaining our “just right” atmosphere include the closed loop hydrologic cycle and the photosynthesis of our plants, trees, and other vegetation. Persons promoting the anthropogenic global warming agenda conveniently ignore or minimize these important elements. Upcoming issues of “The Mysterious Climate Project” series will focus on these and other critical aspects of our climate environment.
The transfer of heat between the sun and Planet Earth, then between Planet Earth and our atmosphere, and finally between our atmosphere and outer space is a complex process involving so many combinations it’s simply incredible!
There are changes in energy itself, changes in its molecular behavior, changes in the wavelengths of each different form of energy, heat exchanges between the sun, our clouds, atmosphere, oceans, and land masses, heat exchanges between oceans and land masses, between oceans and clouds, between clouds and land, and heat exchanges between just about every other combination imaginable.
In fact, it beguiles the imagination to think certain individuals and groups continually focus on one aspect of climate change – carbon dioxide – when its contribution to the overall greenhouse effect is miniscule compared to other greenhouse gases such as water vapor. But then again, we’ll get into that discussion in a later section.
In this section of “The Mysterious Climate Project,” we learned how and when the term “greenhouse gas” began and grew; how the sun’s rays enter Earth as visible light, how they are transformed into heat, and finally how excess heat leaves Planet Earth in the form of infrared energy. We also learned how greenhouse gases absorb a certain portion of this infrared energy and how this action contributes to Planet Earth’s “goldilocks” atmosphere.
In the next section of “The Mysterious Climate Project,” we’ll separate our inventory of greenhouse gases by those considered natural and by those considered before the Industrial Revolution and by those believed to have been acquired since the Industrial Revolution. We will then add to this information by applying an equalizing factor called the Global Warming Potential or GWP for short.
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