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Yasmeen Nasser Kofahi

Grade 12 IB
Environmental Systems
Global Warming
The Cause and Meaning of Global Warming

The greenhouse effect is a normal process which is necessary for maintaining the Earth’s
surface temperature. It is caused by gases in the atmosphere reducing heat losses by radiating it
back into space. They trap heat energy that is reflected from the Earth’s surface, and reflect some
back into space and some back to Earth (see the table below). Greenhouse gases take in infrared
radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface and pass that heat to other atmospheric gases.
Incoming solar radiation is made up of visible light, ultraviolet light, and infrared heat. About
45% of incoming light is absorbed, scattered or reflected by the atmosphere and clouds before it
reaches the Earth’s surface, the 55% that reaches the Earth’s surface 4% is reflected and 51% is
absorbed into the Earth, and it is used for photosynthesis, heating the ground and seas, and
evaporation. It is then released back into the environment as longer wavelength infrared energy
(heat energy). Therefore, if we had no greenhouse gases this energy would be lost to space.

Table:

Global warming is the heating of the Earth’s surface, caused by an excess amount
of the green house gas effect, which traps more infrared radiation into the Earth. Human
activities (anthropogenic activities) are increasing the amounts of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, and
chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). CFCs are chemicals made by humans which destroy the ozone layer
when they reach the stratosphere, but acts as greenhouse gases in the troposphere. Most
greenhouse gases are there through natural processes but it is the increase, which is caused by
human activities which is the problem. The most greenhouse gas there is in the earth is carbon.
Human activity has increased carbon globally, through increased combustion, land use changes,
and deforestation.
The effects of global warming are that sea levels are rising due to increased
temperatures causing water to expand and ice to melt which then runs off into the seas. Also,
Melting of land ice on Antarctica and Greenland will cause sea levels to rise as it flows into the
sea. Glaciers are melting causing increased volumes of water. Warmer temperature should
increase the rate of biochemical reactions so photosynthesis should increase, although respiration
will also increase therefore there may be no increase in the net plant production. The melting of
tundra permafrost would also release methane which is trapped in the frozen soils; the issue is
that animals can move to cooler places but plants cannot. The impact on humans’ health is that
diseases will increase because more mosquitoes and disease spreading insects will be able to live
in the hot weather. In addition, some economies would suffer if water supplies decrease or
drought occurs, since they depend on rain to supply them with water.