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Greenhouse gases


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).


Teaching materials on atmospheric gases

  Vetted articles on atmospheric gases


Featured resources :

  • The Makeup of Earth's Atmosphere Featured Article The Makeup of Earth's Atmosphere The Makeup of Earth's Atmosphere

    Electromagnetic radiation is the dominant form of energy that is exchanged among the sun, Earth, and the void of space. The interaction between electromagnetic radiation and... More »

  • Module/Unit: Earth's Atmosphere Featured Teaching Unit Module/Unit: Earth's Atmosphere Module/Unit: Earth's Atmosphere

    SUMMARY In this lesson, students learn how atmospheric composition and circulation impact the generation of storms. Students examine the primary and variable gases that... More »

Recently Updated
Lesson Plans: Global Climate Change: The Effects of Global Warming - CLEAN Last Updated on 2014-04-04 15:30:43 Selection for the CLEAN Collection. Summary by the CLEAN reviewers:  Activity takes three to four class periods. Technology to show videos and additional materials are needed. The activity follows a progression that examines the CO2 content of various gases, explores the changes in the atmospheric levels of CO2 from 1958 to 2000 from the Mauna Loa Keeling curve, and the relationship between CO2 and temperature over the past 160,000 years. This provides a foundation for examining individuals' input of CO2 to the atmosphere and how to reduce it. Objectives by the developer of the original resource. Understand how atmospheric levels of CO2 relate to climate change and global warming. Explore the effects of global warming on the environment, as indicated by the changes in Earth's glacial ice. Consider the... More »
Speed Science - Nitrogen Canopy Sensors - Peter Scharf, PhD, University of Missouri Last Updated on 2014-02-28 18:41:07 Published on Dec 11, 2013 Dr. Peter Scharf, Professor, University of Missouri, discusses the use of nitrogen sensing equipment to maximize efficiency and minimize loss of nitrogen fertilizer, and nitrogen management's potential to decrease production costs, increase crop yield and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in corn-based cropping systems. This is an abridged version of his presentation made at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project - CSCAP [Sustainable Corn]. More »
Speed Science Fact Sheets: Climate and Climate Change - CSCAP Last Updated on 2014-02-24 11:53:39 The Speed Science Fact Sheets and presentation videos are approved for use in educational, research and extension settings. The fact sheets were developed and presented as "Speed Science"  by the Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems CAP (CSCAP). The CSCAP is a transdisciplinary partnership among 11 institutions creating new science and educational opportunities. It seeks to increase resilience and adaptability of Midwest agriculture to more volatile weather patterns by identifying farmer practices and policies that increase sustainability while meeting crop demand. Printable flyer >>  About CSCAP Project To promote the long-term sustainability and productivity of U.S. corn-based cropping systems against recent climate trends and future uncertainty. Project Objectives: Develop standardized methodologies and perform baseline monitoring of carbon,... More »
Anthropocene Last Updated on 2013-09-03 12:23:40 The Anthropocene defines Earth's most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. The word combines the root "anthropo", meaning "human" with the root "-cene", the standard suffix for "epoch" in geologic time. The Anthropocene is distinguished as a new period either after or within the Holocene, the current epoch, which began approximately 10,000 years ago (about 8000 BC) with the end of the last glacial period. Anthropocene is a new term, proposed in 2000 by Nobel Prize winning scientist Paul Crutzen. A similar term, Anthrocene, was coined by Andrew Revkin in his 1992 book Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, but was not adopted by scientists.... More »
Simulation: Climate Momentum Last Updated on 2013-05-14 00:00:00 SUMMARY A flash tool with fast insights. This Climate Momentum Simulation allows users to quickly compare the resulting sea level rise, temperature change, atmospheric CO2, and global CO2 emissions from six predetermined scenarios.  ACTIVITY DESCRIPTION AND TEACHING MATERIALS Climate Momentum Simulator if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('a2be1f13-9024-4d93-bd99-27b831da7bf0');Get the Climate Momentum widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)   ASSESSMENT Assessment is at the discretion of the individulal educator. REFERENCES AND RESOURCES Additonal Simulations by Climate Interactive >> En-ROADS C-ROADS C-Learn Climate Momentum Simulation Climate Pathways World Climate Climate... More »