The Greenhouse Effect

Through the boom of clean energy technologies such as Solar Photovoltaic (PV), Wind Turbines (WT), Energy Efficiency Technologies (EFT), Electric Vehicles (EVs), and LNG to Power, the global economy is moving towards different markets and opportunities in the energy sector, guided by an unstoppable clean energy transition. This transition is not only a matter of economy but a new social and political trend where environmental awareness plays a role in people´s mind, particularly in the new generations. As a sustainable energy organisation, it is often for SENS to hear questions from our clients, suppliers and communities about climate change. Our stakeholders look for answers regarding how we would face the, for now, “uncertain” but horrifying climate change impacts on human´s life. Such evidence like glaciers shrinking and more records of higher temperatures are plausible telling matters of global warming, turning on the alarms of fear in our communities. However, do we really know the process our planet experiences these climate changes? Do we understand the root cause? Do we understand what is global warming? Rather than focusing on climate changes, and despite their mentioning, this article has the intention to explain how the planet suffers warming and explicitly frame the greenhouse effect and consequent impacts.

An Enhanced Effect

The greenhouse effect is the process in which the emission of the denominated greenhouse gases (GHG), mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) Climate Council, 2016and methane derivates, hovering in the atmosphere, heap as clouds to form a thick layer blocking the natural infrared radiation rejected by the planet's surface [1]. The greenhouse name is because this effect is allusive to one that occurs in greenhouse fields, where the plants inside would represent the surface of the Earth and their glazes the GHG [2]. In that case, the glazes retain the energy from the sun that enters to the greenhouse field to accelerate the photosynthesis process in the plants inside.

100 per cent of the energy on the planet comes from the sun [3]. Solar irradiation falls onto the Earth as electromagnetic waves that reach the atmosphere of our planet to then, pass through it, and finally get to the surface [4]. After that, some of this irradiation remains on the planet, but most are rejected. Indeed, energy remaining is a natural greenhouse effect; however, the issue starts when this effect is, in fact, enhanced due to Anthropocene or human activities such as burning fossil fuels [1]. As a right statement, the greenhouse effect that causes global warming is an enhanced greenhouse effect on the earth. This enhancement happens when the accumulation of CO2 and GHG in the atmosphere is such excessive, much higher than the natural one, even more than 1000 per cent! [3].

Four main impacts of the Greenhouse Effect

94 per cent of the remaining energy on Earth is absorbed by the ocean, 3 per cent by the glaciers, and 3 per cent by the atmosphere [1]. Consequently, the excess of energy in the ocean produces a variation in the basicity and acidity index (pH) of its water, towards increasing the acidity variable. This acidity increase is the root cause of coral reefs bleaching. For example, in Australia, 67 per cent of its northern coral reef is now dead [5]. Furthermore, the increased acidity in the ocean alters the feeding chain of the marine life, starting in the deep ocean by putting an end to some algae´s life and plankton production [1].

Such excess of energy absorption makes the ocean to gain higher temperatures that, in combination with the energy absorbed by the glaciers, consequently raise the sea levels, another plausible impact of global warming. As for the ice, the rate of loss in Southern and Western Greenland is equivalent to -10cm H2O/yr [1] -at accelerated levels, Greenland would disappear in 30 years.

Higher temperatures and more water available unleash more precipitation in the atmosphere; more water is evaporated, then new clouds formations occur as well as wind patterns changes. The GHG almost doubles the precipitation in the globe [1]. Thus, new clouds appear in new areas, and clouds that used to be in certain areas start to disappear, then droughts arise. As a matter of fact, the rainfall patterns changing in areas such as the Amazon river in Brazil, which has been losing its caudal volume, are climate changes that are having impacts on their local communities nowadays [6]. In Australia, severe droughts are more frequent in the Southwest and Southeast regions [5].

The excess of energy absorbed by the land and the atmosphere due to the Greenhouse effect mainly contributes to how Global Warming feels. The mean temperature in extreme-heaty days has increased twice from 1995 to 2010 in the world [7]. Heatwaves are more often, intense, and longer [3].

 The Earth is warming, ice is melting, rainfall patterns are changing, the ocean is acidifying. Human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause of these changes. The physics do not understand policies and economics [8]. At this rate of GHG emissions, 4 °C of temperature increase will be reaching for 2050 [1]. Urgent actions are needed!

Rogelio Maier Mosiño

Energy Researcher at Sustainable Energy Network Solutions



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