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Overview of Greenhouse Effect | Definition, Meaning, Greenhouse Gases, Causes, and its Effects

Updated on 27 July 2022
Edubabble LLP
22 min read 18 views
Updated on 27 July 2022

Definition of Greenhouse Effect


“Greenhouse effect is the process by which radiations from the sun are absorbed by the greenhouse gases and not reflected back into space. This insulates the surface of the earth and prevents it from freezing.”

Meaning of Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect is a process in which greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, cause thermal radiation emitted by the Earth's surface to be reflected back down, causing the climate to warm.

The outer atmosphere deflects about 30% of the sunlight that falls on Earth and scatters it back into space. The remaining part of sunlight reaches the planet's surface and is reflected upward as infrared radiation, a type of slow-moving energy.

Infrared radiation heat is absorbed by greenhouse gases such as vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, and methane, slowing its escape from the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases regulate our climate by trapping heat and storing it in a warm-air blanket that surrounds the Earth. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect. 

Different Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases are the concentrations of gases that cause heat to be trapped in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include the following:

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2)

  1. Methane (CH4)

  1. Nitrous oxide (N2O)

  1. Fluorinated gases, such as halons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrogen trifluoride, Sulphur hexafluoride, and so on.

However, the scale of emission of these greenhouse gases varies, resulting in variations in their concentration in the atmosphere.

Causes of Greenhouse Effect

  1. Burning Fossil Fuel- Coal, oil, and natural gas are examples of fossil fuels that are used for transportation and electricity generation, among other things. The combustion of fossil fuels emits massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

  1. Farming- Nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is emitted by fertilisers used in agriculture. It is a major contributor to global warming.

  1. Deforestation- Deforestation is a common cause of the greenhouse effect because it reduces oxygen release and carbon dioxide absorption by plants. Furthermore, when wood is burned, the stored carbon is released back into the environment.
  2. Increase In Population- Population growth in various parts of the world has put enormous strain on the world's finite resources. Higher demand has resulted in a significant increase in manufacturing, resulting in increased emissions of harmful gases.

  1. Landfilling- Landfilling of industrial produce and waste from activities such as coal mining, cement production, and oil extraction, results in the production of harmful greenhouse gases.

Effects of Greenhouse Effect 

Global warming

It refers to the gradual rise in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere. The main cause of this environmental problem is the increased production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane from the combustion of fossil fuels, as well as emissions from vehicles and industries.

Ozone Layer Depletion

The Ozone Layer shields the Earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. It can be found in the stratosphere's upper reaches. The depletion of the ozone layer allows harmful UV rays to enter the earth's surface, which can cause skin cancer and drastically alter the climate.

The accumulation of natural greenhouse gases such as chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide, methane, and others is the primary cause of this phenomenon.

Smog and Pollution of the Air

Smog is created when smoke and fog combine. It is caused by both natural and man-made factors.

In general, smog is caused by high levels of more greenhouse gases, such as nitrogen and sulphur oxides. Automobile and industrial emissions, agricultural fires, natural forest fires, and the reaction of these chemicals among themselves are the major contributors to the formation of smog.

Water Bodies Acidification

The increase in the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has acidified the majority of the world's water bodies. The greenhouse gases combine with rainwater and fall to the ground as acid rain. This causes water bodies to become acidic.

Furthermore, rainwater carries contaminants with it and deposits them in rivers, streams, and lakes, causing acidification.

Greenhouse Effect - Runaway

This happens when the planet absorbs more radiation than it can emit back. As a result, the heat lost from the earth's surface is reduced, and the planet's temperature continues to rise. Scientists believe that this phenomenon occurred billions of years ago on the surface of Venus.

This phenomenon is thought to have happened in the following way:

  1. When the temperature of a planet rises to the boiling point of water, a runaway greenhouse effect occurs. As a result, all of the water in the oceans condenses into water vapour, trapping more heat from the sun and raising the global temperature. The greenhouse effect is eventually accelerated as a result of this. This is also known as a "positive feedback loop."
  2. Another scenario is giving rise to the runaway greenhouse effect. Assume that the temperature rise is caused by the factors listed above such as a high level of chemical reactions beginning to occur. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a result of these chemical reactions.

This would heat the planet's surface, accelerating the transfer of carbon dioxide from the rocks to the atmosphere and causing the runaway greenhouse effect.


Despite the damage caused by the greenhouse effect and global warming, the temperature of the Earth could drop to nearly -18° Celsius in its absence.

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