Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership

Greenhouse Effect

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CO2 and the Greenhouse Effect
Sunlight passes through the atmosphere and warms the Earth's surface. Greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases, trap some of the Sun's energy as it is being radiated back into space, causing the atmosphere to warm. More accurately, molecules of GHG are continuously absorbing and releasing heat, indirectly warming the surrounding atmosphere and the Earth’s surface.

The amount of heat from the “greenhouse effect” would be relatively stable as long as the mixture of GHGs in the atmosphere remains relatively stable, conditions at the Earth’s surface remain relatively constant, and the amount of energy coming to the Earth from the Sun remains stable.

Right now, the natural greenhouse effect is maintaining an average annual temperature of about 59°F at the surface of the Earth. Without the greenhouse effect, the average annual temperature at the Earth's surface would be around 0°F! 1

  1. (accessed January 14, 2010).