Definition of Greenhouse Gas

What Is Greenhouse Gas?


A greenhouse gas (GHG) is a gas that absorbs and releases radiation within our atmosphere. While greenhouse gases allow the sun’s energy to enter the atmosphere, instead of letting it re-radiate back into space as infrared radiation, these gasses absorb infrared radiation and trap it in the atmosphere. This is called the greenhouse effect and is the primary contribution humans are making to climate change.

Greenhouse gas emissions can occur naturally through biogenic processes such as the decomposition of biological materials, forest fires, and fermentation. Anthropogenic (human) sources of greenhouse gases include:

  • Burning of fossil fuels
  • Deforestation
  • The enteric fermentation of livestock waste
  • Changes in wetland structure
  • Landfill methane emissions
  • Emission fluorinated gases in refrigeration systems and fire suppression systems
  • Agricultural activities like using nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers

The following are the primary greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere by human activities:

  • Carbon dioxide: This greenhouse gas enters the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned, solid waste rots, trees are cut down, and through certain chemical reactions.
  • Methane: This is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and originates primarily through the burning of fossil fuels as well as a result of the fermentation of organic and livestock waste in solid waste facilities.
  • Nitrous oxide: This greenhouse gas is emitted during many industrial and agricultural practices.
  • Fluorinated gases: This class of greenhouse gas includes hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride, all synthetic gases that result from various human activities (like running air conditioners).
  • Ozone: This GHG can be found in both lower and upper atmosphere. In the lower atmosphere it presents direct harm to the respiratory system and becomes an air pollutant when mixed with man made pollution. However, ozone in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) serves as a defense layer, protecting the earth from ultraviolet light.

It should be noted that another primary greenhouse gas is water vapor which occurs naturally. 

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