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This animation provides an overview of the greenhouse effect, a process that warms the atmosphere and surface of Earth.
Some of the sunlight absorbed by Earth is reemitted as infrared radiation. As shown in the animation, this radiation is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. The greenhouse gases reradiate some of the radiation back to Earth, which warms the planet’s surface.
The greenhouse effect is a natural process that has maintained Earth’s temperature at a habitable level. However, human activities — in particular, the burning of fossil fuels — release additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These additional gases increase the greenhouse effect, making Earth warmer than usual.
This animation is based on a clip from a 2012 Holiday Lecture Series, Changing Planet: Past, Present, Future. Depending on students’ background, it may be helpful to pause the animation at various points to discuss different components of the greenhouse effect.
atmosphere, carbon dioxide (CO2), climate, greenhouse gas, methane (CH4), radiation, solar energy, temperature, water vapor
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