What Is Global Warming?

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  2. January 3, 2013 8:49 pm

What Is Global Warming?

As human activity changes the composition of the atmosphere, the way in which sunlight reflects of the planet changes as well. This sounds very abstract, but the atmosphere is really not that big. The ratio of the earth to the atmosphere is about the same as the ratio size of a ping-pong ball to the vapor from your breath that clings to it when you breathe on it. The atmosphere is just a little bit of gas that is held in by gravity. When you consider that human activity spans the globe in all directions and nearly every human endeavor involves burning gasoline it is no surprise that we are having an effect on the atmosphere.

The general effect is the transformation of oxygen to carbon dioxide. Combustion is a chemical process that combines carbon with oxygen and liberates energy. When it is complete you are left with some waste heat and a slightly heavier gas. It traps the sun’s heat slightly better. On the planetary scale, this becomes important.

Nearly all the warmth of the earth comes from the sun. As carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere creep higher than they have been in three million years, the surface of the earth warms ever so slightly. The carbon dioxide is just a little bit heavier, so it can hold a little bit more water vapor above it. Clouds get that bit heavier, and rainstorms get a smidgen harder. The ice caps and glaciers melt some, and the ocean fills up just that tiny bit more. None of this seems like a big deal, but it is all adding up. To the vast populations of people who live near an ocean or a sea, this is starting to become a crisis. What’s more, the changing water in the atmosphere alters the weather, making it more severe and variable. It all combines into an uncomfortable situation for the plants and animals trying to live on this planet with us.

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