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Greenhouse Effect

As part of your study of GCSE physical geography, you will look at climate and climate change. Climate change is the result of natural and human factors, and has a range of effects. Since the late twentieth century, much of the talk of climate change has been about the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Global warming is the result of the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is created by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and even water vapour in the atmosphere. During the day, the surface of the Earth is warmed by the Sun's rays. At night, this heat is lost into space. Greenhouse gases reduce this heat loss and without them, the Earth would have an average temperature well below zero Celsius. There would be no liquid water at the surface, making things extremely difficult for life.

If the quantity of greenhouse gases in the air is too high, the balance between heat input and heat lost is disturbed and the average temperature rises.

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This gives rise to climate change - there is much more energy in the atmosphere which creates greater extremes of weather. There will be more storms, greater extremes of temperature and stronger winds.

Energy generation by burning fossil fuels is the main way that humans are influencing the greenhouse effect. There are some scientists who believe that the current climate change is entirely natural, however, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide cannot be denied. The timing of this increase corresponds to a significant increase in the use of motorised transport that has occurred since the end of the Second World War. Added to natural climate change, any human-made climate change could have a disastrous effect on the planet.

So management of the human contribution to the greenhouse effect is important. One of the most obvious methods is to reduce our use of fossil fuels since burning these puts carbon dioxide directly into the air. Using renewable sources of energy is one method to help to reduce the carbon footprint of MEDCs and LEDCs. The other way to reduce human impact is to use carbon capture in order to remove some of the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This involves planting trees to offset the carbon dioxide an individual or business emits. The problem here is that severe deforestation is taking place in certain parts of the world - it is likely that more trees are being destroyed than planted.

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  1. Which of the following statements is not true?
    The greenhouse effect and global warming are linked but are far from being the same. The greenhouse effect is just a part of global warming
  2. At the present time, scientists have discovered that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is ...
    Since the middle of the twentieth century, scientists have measured a gradual increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere
  3. The greenhouse effect causes ...
    The increase in average temperature is referred to as global warming
  4. What is believed to be the main human influence on the greenhouse effect?
    You may have been tempted by the second option, however, it is the burning of fossil fuels that puts more and more carbon dioxide into the air, adding to the greenhouse gases already there
  5. Why does the greenhouse effect cause climate change?
    Climate is driven by the amount of energy in the atmosphere. On no account should you ever associate the holes in the ozone layer with the greenhouse effect (or climate change or global warming). They are separate and very different issues. This confusion is caused because the CFCs that cause the ozone layer problem are also very powerful greenhouse gases
  6. Which of the following is not a result of the greenhouse effect causing global warming?
    Acid rain is caused by acidic gases like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides getting into the air. A lot of students associate this with the greenhouse effect because both problems are partly caused by humans burning fossil fuels
  7. The countries that emit the greatest percentages of greenhouse gases into the air are ...
    MEDCs have well-developed manufacturing industries which use a lot of energy derived from fossil fuels and there is usually a greater use of motorised transport per head of population than in LEDCs. NEEs (newly emerging economies) are building their manufacturing bases and cannot yet afford (or are unwilling to invest in) the technology to limit their increasing carbon footprint
  8. Which of the following is a practical way to reduce human impact on the greenhouse effect?
    Carbon capture is achieved by planting trees. They use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen
  9. Why is the greenhouse effect sometimes called the enhanced greenhouse effect?
    Enhanced means 'added to'. Human activity is thought by many people to add to the naturally occuring greenhouse effect
  10. As well as burning fossil fuels, which one of the following is considered to be increasing the greenhouse effect?
    In tropical rainforests, deforestation is occuring at an alarmingly fast rate. The trees and plants in rainforests grow all year round and constantly remove carbon dioxide from the air. When they are cleared for agriculture, much less carbon dioxide is removed from the air

Author: Kev Woodward

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