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The discovery of the greenhouse effect was done by Joseph Fourier in 1824. However, the initial reliable scientific experimentation of the phenomenon was by John Tyndall in 1858. The qualitative reporting of greenhouse effect was done in 1896 by (Businger and Fleagle, P. 56). The greenhouse effect is the phenomenon where light from the sun is allowed to pass through a transparent medium to a planetary surface, but on getting radiated, the energy is absorbed by the greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, Ozone, methane and water vapor, in the atmosphere (See graph 1).
The trapped energy is transferred to other elements in the atmosphere and re-radiated in every direction, including back to the planetary surface. This is what causes the temperature to be higher that would be the case if the energy was reaching the surface direct from the sun. Despite the fact that the greenhouse gases constitute only around 1% of the atmosphere, they are able to regulate the temperature by creating a sort of warm blanket that surrounds the earth. Without the greenhouse gases, the earth’s temperature would be colder by about 300C (540F).
This means that without the greenhouse effect the earth would not be in a temperature conducive to human beings and other organisms. However, where the greenhouse effect becomes stronger, it has devastating effects to life. Even a little over warming is harmful to human beings, animals and plants (Henderson-Sellers and McGuffie P. 28). Scientifically illustrating, taking a perfect thermally conductive black body that is placed the same distance as the Earth is from the sun, the black body would be expected to have a temperature of about 5. 3 degrees Celsius.
Nevertheless given the fact that the planetary surface radiates 30 percent of the received energy, the earth’s real surface temperature is approximately -18 or -19 Degrees Celsius. This is about 33 degrees Celsius less that the real temperature which is approximately 14 or 15 degrees Celsius. The means that creates this deference in temperature is what scientists refer to as the greenhouse effect. The main natural greenhouse gases are water vapor. The water vapor is known to cause around 36-70 percent of the greenhouse effect on the earth’s surface, excluding clouds.
Others are: carbon dioxide which is known to cause about 9-26 percent; methane, known to cause about 4-9 percent; and Ozone causing only 3-7 percent. It is impossible to state the exact cause of each of the greenhouse gases, since the influences on the different gases are not additive. There are other greenhouse gases that are not major including: nitrous oxide, hydro-fluorocarbons, per-fluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and chlorofluorocarbons (Maslin, P. 29). Global warming The increase in the temperature over the last few decades has been associated with the increase in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
There is an overwhelming consensus among scientists that the world is experiencing major climate change. Greenhouse gases act like a radiating medium reflecting some of the energy that would be lost to space back to the planetary surface. Burning of fossil fuel as well as other human activities has led to the increased concentration of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The emission of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel as for instance increased in the last five decades or so (see graph 2). This has led to another phenomenon referred to as the global warming (Maslin, P.
31). This refers to the rise in the average temperature of near-surface air and oceans beginning in the 20th century and its expected continuance. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the temperature of the earth’s surface went up 0. 74 ± 0. 18 degrees Celsius (1. 33 ± 0. 32 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last century (Hopwood and Cohen, para 5). Most of the increase was attributed to the rise in greenhouse gases resulting from human activities.
Climate representation projections provided in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report revealed that there is likelihood of the temperatures going up a further 1. 1 to 6. 4 degrees Celsius (2. 0 to 11. 5 degrees Fahrenheit) in the current century. The ambiguity in the approximation occurs as a result of the use of representations with different sensitivity to gas concentrations (Torn and Harte, P. 45). “The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients of delay are coming to a close.
In its place, we are entering a period of consequences” Winston Churchill (Hopwood and Cohen, 2010: para 19). The consequences of our actions in increasing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have started to be felt. There are various evidences of the fact that the effects of global warming are already being experienced around the world. It is possible to observe from satellite pictures as well as studies that melting of the ice caps is taking place faster. There is also a rise in the sea level.
The obvious notable effect is the change in weather patterns around the world. There is an increase in water shortage and experiencing of hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones. Despite the fact that some of these have been experienced in the past, their ferocity and frequency has been increasing. There is the likelihood of increase in the desert taking away the world capacity to grow food. Scientists have predicted that unless something is done to reverse the trend, the effects will continue to be felt and in severe magnitude (Maslin, P.
29). In handling the issue, there is need to adapt the precautionary principle. According to this principle likely consequences of an action are harsh or irreparable, in the nonexistence of complete scientific conviction, the burden of evidence falls on those who would support taking the action. The world has been through a lot of climatic changes, but the unfortunate fact is that we are the cause and are doing it at a very speedy rate (Henderson-Sellers and McGuffie P. 73).
The increase in carbon emissions is a result of human activities for example burning of fossil fuel, cement production and deforestation. The measure of carbon dioxide from the Mauna Loa observatory reveals that the level has gone up from 313 ppm in the year 1960 to 389 ppm in 2010 (Hopwood and Cohen, para 8). The only way to slow down or even reverse global warming is to ensure that these levels have been brought down. The solution is dealing with the human activities that cause carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Scientists have proposed mitigation as the process that will reverse the situation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines the term as actions to lessen greenhouse gases emissions, or enhance the capability of carbon sinks of absorbing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Some of the ways of doing this is use of cleaner, less polluting mechanisms. Some of the targets to achieve this include increased utilization of renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency.
Forestation is another way that will help in reduction of the greenhouse effect. Scientists have claimed that since even in the most optimistic situation, there will be continued burning of fossil fuel in decades to come, there might be the need to use carbon capture and storage. This refers to a process that captures carbon dioxide produced by industries and factories, storing it, mostly underground (Hopwood and Cohen, para 12). Reduction and possible reverse of this devastating phenomenon lies within the society.
Every person has a responsibility to the globe and should act responsibly to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. This is possible through use of energy efficient appliances, use of renewable energy like wind energy, and planting of trees at any opportunity one gets. Personally I can organize youths for tree planting expeditions. I can also help by ensuring that all the appliances in my house are energy saving. Works cited: Businger, Joost Aloism & Fleagle, Robert Guthrie (1980). An introduction to atmospheric physics. International geophysics series (2nd ed.
). San Diego: Academic. Henderson-Sellers, Ann & McGuffie, Kendal (2005). A climate modelling primer (3rd ed. ). New York: Wiley. Maslin, Mark. Global Warming, a very short introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004 Hopwood, Nick & Cohen, Jordan. Greenhouse Gases and Society, 2010. Retrieved July 26, 2010 from http://www. umich. edu/~gs265/society/greenhouse. htm Torn, Margaret and Harte, John. “Missing feedbacks, asymmetric uncertainties, and the underestimation of future warming”. Geophysical Research Letters 33 (10), 2006.