Climatic changes and the global temperature have always been very dynamic. It’s the result of a balance between the total amount of energy entering and leaving the earth. The earth has been balancing its temperature since the day it came into existence by absorbing heat from the sun and radiating it back into the atmosphere.
Most of us learned in our high school geography class that the earth receives heat from the sun through solar radiation, and then cools off at night by radiating the heat back into the atmosphere, and thus a balance is reached. Many factors, which are both naturally occurring and triggered by human activity, can influence or interfere with this balance.
Throughout earth’s history, its climate has changed many times. Before we humans even existed on earth, the earth went through several climatic changes. Some of the changes were drastic and some were gradual. In some instances, earth went through periods of ice ages that lasted for hundreds of years. During these ice ages, life was threatened and water was scarce. Then, earth gradually warmed up, which allowed nature to take its course. Life prospered and Humans came into existence.
Factors that affect the earth’s atmosphere
The balance that exists on earth between several types of energy can be affected by several factors:
1. The greenhouse effect:
When the earth’s surface receives heat from the sun, it becomes hot. Then, it releases heat back into space to cool off. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb this heat from the surface and radiate them back to the surface of the earth. These gases cover the Earth’s atmosphere like a blanket and influence the earth’s temperature greatly. Without the greenhouse gases, the earth’s average temperature would be about 60 degree Fahrenheit cooler than what it is now. Greenhouse gases could be both natural and human caused.
Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, ozone, and Chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, which is also known as Freon, a commonly used gas in refrigerators and air conditioners. Since the beginning of industrialization, we have been adding more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by burning fossils. In fact, greenhouse gases have increase by approximately 40% since fossil fuels were first utilized for industrial purposes. Much of this is increase was caused by human activities.
The natural greenhouse effects of the earth’s atmosphere make the existence and sustainability of life on earth possible. Without the ozone layer that protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, life on earth would have never been possible.
2. Variation in sun’s energy
Scientists have been trying to find correlations between the sun’s energy cycles and climatic changes. If the intensity of solar energy fluctuates, earth may become cooler or hotter. There are also factors that change the amount of the sun’s energy that reaches earth. These factors include changes in the earth’s orbit and changes within the sun itself.
The little ice age is referred to the cooling of Europe, North America, and other parts of the globe between 1645 to 1715. It has been linked to variations in the sun’s energy at that time. Furthermore, past cycles of ice ages on earth were caused by changes in orbit of the earth.
3. Reflectivity of earth’s surface
Earth’s surface heats up by receiving solar radiation from the sun. It absorbs some of the heat and reflects some of the heat back into the space. How much heat is reflected back depends on the type of surface, color of light, color of the object, and amount and type of particles in the atmosphere. Dark colored objects such as forests, soil and ocean tend to absorb more heat; while light colored objects, such as snow or sand, tend to reflect more. Earth absorbs about 70% of the heat received by the sun and reflects about 30%. Aerosols in the atmosphere, which are similar to greenhouse gases, can affect the reflectivity of earth’s surface. The amount of aerosol particles in the atmosphere can increase through volcanic eruptions or through the burning of coal, which emits sulfur. While sulfur has a cooling effect on the atmosphere, the soot from carbon can have a warming effect on the atmosphere.
SScientists have proven that human activities are responsible for global warming. The burning of fossils and deforestation are to blame. Anything that negatively impacts the globe can become a serious issue for future generations, and therefore, none of these issues should be ignored. All it takes to make a difference is making little changes to our lifestyles, such as buying and using more green products and being more conscious of our energy consumption. If we all do a little, together we can do a lot.
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