The Greenhouse Effect
Anyone who has either spent time in a greenhouse for plants or simply gotten into a car on a hot summer day has personally experienced the greenhouse effect. Heat enters an enclosed area and then reflects back and forth building upon itself. While the ambient temperature outside might be 85 degrees Fahrenheit, inside an automobile the temperature easily zooms upward to 130F. Simply put, the greenhouse effect is what happens when heat is trapped in one way or another and then increases as more heat radiation is added.
This is fine if you are an orchid or other tropical plant. But living things, including people, require set parameters of climate. When we discuss the greenhouse effect as regarding global warming we place the effect into a specific environment. That is the Earth’s atmosphere. When referencing the Earth, our entire planet becomes the interior of an automobile in the heat of summer. The Earth of course does not have a metal roof or a glass dome around it to trap heat and reflect solar radiation back to its surface. Indeed when drawings depict and descriptions explain the greenhouse effect the principle is simplified to imply that this is the case. Actually the greenhouse effect for the Earth is somewhat different.
When solar radiation passes through out atmosphere the molecules that constitute our air absorb it. The majority of solar heat is absorbed by our planet’s surface. Different types of surfaces absorb or reflect heat in different ways. A white blanket of snow will reflect much more heat than freshly paved asphalt. Still everything that the sun’s rays fall upon either absorbs or reflects heat. In the case of out snowy Polar Regions that heat is reflected back from the planet. In the case of our cities it is trapped on the surface. From there it radiates outward where living things attempt to adjust to the relative heat or cold. Our planet’s original design was for a balance of all the components. Our atmosphere absorbs enough heat to keep us warm but hopefully not bake us. The angle of the sun in areas such as the poles creates an environment suited to North and South Pole inhabitants. The people, creatures and plant life at the Earth’s equator have acclimated to their section of the world.
The greenhouse effect occurs planet wide when solar radiation either bounces off of or is radiated forth from the earth and instead of passing through our atmosphere and outward into space, is absorbed by all kinds of extra amounts of and extraneous gases and particles. These gases et al absorb heat and then radiate it outward in all directions, one of those directions, being the surface of the Earth. From there the process repeats itself until we have a global version of a car with the windows rolled up parked in the noonday sun.