Read for the Earth: An Opportunity for Climate Educators

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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
No, climate models aren’t exaggerating global warming Last Updated on 2015-02-06 11:01:05 Weather and climate agencies around the world have been almost unanimous in declaring 2014 the hottest year on record — something that has promoted considerable chagrin among climate change doubters. That’s because these “skeptics” have long sought to cast doubt on man-made global warming by pointing to an alleged global warming “pause” or “slowdown” — going on to suggest that the computerized climate models that scientists use to project future temperatures are flawed, and overestimate carbon dioxide’s warming effect. More »
Earth's Past Climate Reveals Future Global Warming Last Updated on 2015-02-06 10:41:43 Emissions of carbon dioxide are changing the climate and natural factors like clouds may not help  CLICK HERE TO READ MORE More »
Researchers' data show climate change is accelerating the melting of Siberia Last Updated on 2015-02-04 11:47:50 Siberia, one of the world's largest storehouses of frozen greenhouse gases, is melting at a quickened pace. Over the last 7,000 years, winter temperatures in the Siberian permafrost regions have gradually risen, according to new research from German and Russian scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and published in the journal Nature Geoscience. It's a trend that has long been predicted by climate models but never before been proved.   CLICK HERE TO READ MORE  More »
A Bad Day for Climate Change Deniers … and the Planet Last Updated on 2015-01-20 10:52:19   CLICK HERE TO READ MORE More »
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