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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, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere. As a result, the temperature there is higher than it would be if direct heating by solar radiation were the only warming mechanism.
This mechanism is fundamentally different from that of an actual greenhouse, which works by isolating warm air inside the structure so that heat is not lost byconvection.
The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824, first reliably experimented on by John Tyndall in 1858, and first reported quantitatively bySvante Arrhenius in 1896.
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% (or 28%) 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 or −19 °C, about 33°C below the actual surface temperature of about 14 °C or 15 °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.
Global warming, a recent warming of the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere, is believed to be the result of a strengthening of the greenhouse effect mostly due to human-produced increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases.[10
The Earth receives energy from the Sun in the form UV, visible, and near IR radiation, most of which passes through the atmosphere without being absorbed. Of the total amount of energy available at the top of the atmosphere (TOA), about 50% is absorbed at the Earth's surface. Because it is warm, the surface radiates far IR thermal radiation that consists of wavelengths that are predominantly much longer than the wavelengths that were absorbed. Most of this thermal radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere and re-radiated both upwards and downwards; that radiated downwards is absorbed by the Earth's surface. This trapping of long-wavelength thermal radiation leads to a higher equilibrium temperature than if the atmosphere were absent.
This highly simplified picture of the basic mechanism needs to be qualified in a number of ways, none of which affect the fundamental process.
The solar radiation spectrum for direct light at both the top of the Earth's atmosphere and at sea level
Main article: Greenhouse gas
By their percentage contribution to the greenhouse effect on Earth the four major gases are:
The major non-gas contributor to the Earth's greenhouse effect, clouds, also absorb and emit infrared radiation and thus have an effect on radiative properties of the atmosphere.
Role in climate change
Main article: Global warming
Strengthening of the greenhouse effect through human activities is known as the enhanced (or anthropogenic) greenhouse effect. This increase in radiative forcing from human activity is attributable mainly to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.Real greenhouses
CO2 is produced by fossil fuel burning and other activities such as cement production and tropical deforestation. Measurements of CO2 from the Mauna Loa observatory show that concentrations have increased from about 313 ppm  in 1960 to about 389 ppm in 2010. The current observed amount of CO2exceeds the geological record maxima (~300 ppm) from ice core data. The effect of combustion-produced carbon dioxide on the global climate, a special case of the greenhouse effect first described in 1896 by Svante Arrhenius, has also been called the Callendar effect.
Because it is a greenhouse gas, elevated CO2 levels contribute to additional absorption and emission of thermal infrared in the atmosphere, which produce net warming. According to the latest Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations".
Over the past 800,000 years, ice core data shows unambiguously that carbon dioxide has varied from values as low as 180 parts per million (ppm) to the pre-industrial level of 270ppm. Paleoclimatologists consider variations in carbon dioxide to be a fundamental factor in controlling climate variations over this time scale.
The "greenhouse effect" is named by analogy to greenhouses. The greenhouse effect and a real greenhouse are similar in that they both limit the rate of thermal energy flowing out of the system, but the mechanisms by which heat is retained are different. A greenhouse works primarily by preventing absorbed heat from leaving the structure through convection, i.e. sensible heat transport. The greenhouse effect heats the earth because greenhouse gases absorb outgoing radiative energy and re-emit some of it back towards earth.Bodies other than Earth
A greenhouse is built of any material that passes sunlight, usually glass, or plastic. It mainly heats up because the Sun warms the ground inside, which then warms the air in the greenhouse. The air continues to heat because it is confined within the greenhouse, unlike the environment outside the greenhouse where warm air near the surface rises and mixes with cooler air aloft. This can be demonstrated by opening a small window near the roof of a greenhouse: the temperature will drop considerably. It has also been demonstrated experimentally (R. W. Wood, 1909) that a "greenhouse" with a cover of rock salt (which is transparent to infra red) heats up an enclosure similarly to one with a glass cover. Thus greenhouses work primarily by preventing convective cooling.
In the greenhouse effect, rather than retaining (sensible) heat by physically preventing movement of the air, greenhouse gases act to warm the Earth by re-radiating some of the energy back towards the surface. This process may exist in real greenhouses, but is comparatively unimportant there.
In our solar system, Mars, Venus, and the moon Titan also exhibit greenhouse effects. Titan has an anti-greenhouse effect, in that its atmosphere absorbs solar radiation but is relatively transparent to infrared radiation. Pluto also exhibits behavior superficially similar to the anti-greenhouse effect.
A runaway greenhouse effect occurs if positive feedbacks lead to the evaporation of all greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A runaway greenhouse effect involving carbon dioxide and water vapor is thought to have occurred on Venus.
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