The global warming greenhouse effect occurs when excess gases, known as greenhouse gases, become trapped in the Earth's lower atmosphere, preventing heat from escaping into space. The greenhouse gases allow light to come in, but stop heat from escaping, similar to the design of a greenhouse. The more greenhouse gases that remain in the atmosphere, the more heat that remains in the atmosphere. Over time, this global warming greenhouse effect makes the planet warmer.
One of the most prevalent greenhouse gases is water vapor, along with carbon dioxide and other trace gases. The Earth has a natural greenhouse effect and without it, the temperature of the planet would be approximately 0 degrees Fahrenheit (about -18 degrees Celsius). This premise dates back to the 1820s when Joseph Fournier realized the planet would be extremely colder without an atmosphere. In the 1890s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhehius realized that humans can increase the greenhouse effect by creating carbon dioxide. Global warming, then results from the discharge of additional greenhouse gases.
Some greenhouse gases are created as a result of actions by human beings. The burning of coal, oil, and natural gas, sends carbon dioxide into the air and deforestation exacerbates its effects. Harmful greenhouse gases are also released into the atmosphere as the result of chemicals found in aerosols, refrigerators, and Styrofoam cups. The release of hazardous greenhouse gases impacts the environment as tiny bits of the gases may keep in a great amount of heat. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have raised the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 30 percent, and large climate changes that in the past have taken centuries have occurred over the period of only a few decades.
As more heat is locked inside of the Earth’s atmosphere due to the global warming greenhouse effect, some scientists predict that summers and winters across the globe can become warmer. The warmer temperatures may affect crops, as certain foods do not grow as well in heat. Also, the global warming greenhouse effect may cause the polar caps to melt, which forces the sea levels to rise. Higher sea levels may cause havoc on the planet through the flooding of low-lying coastal lands.
While some areas will flood, the global warming greenhouse effect may also cause other parts of Earth to dry up. This will alter the Earth's ecosystems, changing the areas in which plants and animals can exist. In turn, this may lead to the demise of certain animal and plant species.