Infrared Radiation and the Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect is used to describe how infrared radiation becomes trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. Large concentrations of these gases are emitted by human activity on Earth. Once the gases are added to the atmosphere, they don’t remain in the same place. As air moves, these gases become globally mixed, having an overall global effect.

As infrared radiation photons interact with these air molecules, radiation is converted into kinetic energy, otherwise known as heat. This reaction is leading to increased atmospheric and surface temperatures known as climate change. Note that climate is defined as the average weather conditions of a place or area over a long term period, vastly different from weather, which is short term and localized. Without high concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, infrared radiation would more easily radiate back into space and allow the Earth to properly cool.

Greenhouse gases exist naturally in the atmosphere and are necessary to keep the Earth warm enough for life to thrive. However, human activity such the burning of fossil fuels for energy and deforestation, has added significantly more greenhouse gases to atmosphere than our biosphere can absorb. Given this information, excessive greenhouse gas concentrations and the greenhouse effect are bad for Earth inhabitants. Plants and animals thrive in specific climate conditions and patterns, and changes to the climate can harm diverse, interconnected, ecosystems. Some of these harmful effects can be observed by the endangerment and extinction of wildlife that depends on sea ice.

For humans, temperature-related illnesses, air pollution, and infectious diseases will have an adverse effect on more vulnerable groups such as the poor, disabled, and the very young or elderly. In areas where temperatures are already hot, increased heat may hurt crop growth and the food supply. Cities near the oceans could become flooded as sea levels rise, possibly wiping out certain beaches and islands as well inhabitants. As someone that would like to leave behind a clean and habitable Earth for future generations, there are steps that can be taken to reduce personal carbon footprint. In fact, almost everyone can reduce their personal carbon footprint by switching to clean energy, using less energy, reducing water use, and reducing waste. If these efforts are multiplied by millions of people worldwide, future generations of inhabitants will be able to thrive on planet Earth.

Sources Cited:
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  • Effects on People and the Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2016, from
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