On earth, two elements, nitrogen () and oxygen (), make up almost 99% of the volume of clean, dry air. Most of the remaining 1% is accounted for by the inert gaseous element, argon (Ar). Argon and the tiny percentage of remaining gases are referred to as trace gases.
Certain trace atmospheric gases help to heat up our planet because they appear transparent to incoming visible (shortwave) light but act as a barrier to outgoing infrared (longwave) radiation. These special trace gases are often referred to as "greenhouse gases" because a scientist in the early 19th century suggested that they function much like the glass plates found on a greenhouse used for growing plants.
The earth's atmosphere is composed of gases (for example, and ) of just the right types and in just the right amounts to warm the earth to temperatures suitable for life. The effect of the atmosphere to trap heat is the true "greenhouse effect."
We can evaluate the effect of greenhouse gases by comparing Earth with its nearest planetary neighbors, Venus and Mars. These planets either have too much greenhouse effect or too little to be able to sustain life as we know it. The differences between the three planets have been termed the "Goldilocks Principle" (Venus is too hot, Mars is too cold, but Earth is just right). http://www.ucar.edu/learn/1_1_2_1t.htm
Simulation: Climate Momentum Last Updated on 2013-05-14 at 17:13
A flash tool with fast insights. This Climate Momentum Simulation allows users to quickly compare the resulting sea level rise, temperature change, atmospheric CO2,... More »