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Global Warming

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Global Warming

Global Warming, the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth's lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution

Two issues that worry many geologists are global warming and the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a natural process that keeps the earth at temperatures that are livable. What does the greenhouse effect have to do with global warming? When humans release gases into the air, the greenhouse effect will change the temperature of the earth. More gases in the atmosphere means the earth will start to get warmer, and the result is global warming. On the other hand, if there was no greenhouse effect, the earth would be too cold for humans to comfortably live.

The temperature of the atmosphere near the earth's surface is warmed through a natural process called the greenhouse effect. Visible, shortwave light comes from the sun to the earth, passing unimpeded through a blanket of thermal, or greenhouse, gases composed largely of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Infrared radiation reflects off the planet's surface toward space but does not easily pass through the thermal blanket. Some of it is trapped and reflected downward, keeping the planet at an average temperature suitable to life, about 60oF (16oC).

Growth in industry, agriculture, and transportation since the Industrial Revolution has produced additional quantities of the natural greenhouse gases plus chlorfuocarbon and other gases, augmenting the thermal blanket. It is generally accepted that this increase in the quantity of greenhouse gases is trapping more heat and increasing global temperatures, making a process that has been beneficial to life potentially disruptive and harmful. During the past century, the atmospheric temperature has risen 1.1oF (0.6oC), and sea level has risen several inches. Some projected, longer-term results of global warming include melting of polar ice, with a resulting rise in sea level and coastal flooding; disruption of drinking water supplies dependent on snow melts; profound changes in agriculture due to climate change; extinction of species as ecological niches disappear; more frequent tropical storms; and an increased incidence of tropical diseases.

Among factors that may be contributing to global warming are the burning of coal and petroleum products (sources of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone); deforestation, which increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; methane gas released in animal waste; and increased cattle production, which contributes to deforestation, methane production, and use of fossil fuels.

Much of the debate surrounding global warming has centered on the accuracy of scientific predictions concerning future warming. To predict global climatic trends, climatologists gather up large historical databases and use them to create computerized models that simulate the earth's climate. The validity of these models has been a subject of controversy. Skeptics say that the climate is too complicated to be accurately modeled, and that there are too many unknowns. Some also question whether the observed climate changes might simply represent normal fluctuations in global temperature. Nonetheless,

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