Greenhouse gases

atmospheric pollution

The delicate balance of greenhouse gases, which have effectively retained the sun's heat and maintained a habitable climate for humans and countless other organisms, is now in danger. This imbalance poses a significant risk, as it has the potential to dramatically alter the conditions necessary for certain life forms to thrive and dictate their geographic distribution.

In this article we are going to tell you what greenhouse gases are, their characteristics and importance.

Greenhouse gases concept

polluting gas emissions

Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most dangerous and widespread greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere have reached unprecedented levels and continue to rise. The main reason for such high levels of greenhouse gases is the human activity of burning fossil fuels, which releases these gases into the air. Instead of allowing solar energy to escape into space, these gases trap heat near the Earth's surface, causing what is commonly known as the greenhouse effect.

The origins of the greenhouse effect date back to the 1824th century, specifically to calculations made by French mathematician Joseph Fourier in 1896. Fourier's calculations revealed that the Earth would experience significantly lower temperatures if it lacked an atmosphere. Building on this understanding, the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius established a groundbreaking connection in XNUMX. He was the first to establish a link between the burning of fossil fuels, which It releases carbon dioxide, and the consequent warming effect on the planet.

Nearly a century later, American climatologist James E. Hansen made a significant impact when he testified before Congress. Hansen stated categorically that not only has the greenhouse effect been detected, but it is currently altering our climate.

Current climate change

The current state of our planet's weather and climate systems is encompassed by the term climate change, as defined by scientists. This term refers to the intricate alterations caused by greenhouse gas concentrations. Climate change includes not only the well-known phenomenon of global warming, which causes an increase in average temperatures, but also covers a wide range of effects such as extreme weather events, changes in wildlife populations and habitats, rising sea levels and various other consequences.

Several governments and organizations worldwide, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations entity responsible for monitoring the latest scientific advances on climate change, are involved in measuring greenhouse gases, the evaluation of its effects and the implementation of solutions.

Primary sources of greenhouse gases are responsible for the majority of their emissions into the atmosphere.

What are greenhouse gases

greenhouse gas emissions

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

The main contributor to the greenhouse effect is carbon dioxide, which represents approximately 75% of total emissions. This powerful gas has the ability to remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. In the first month of 2023, the average monthly measurement of carbon dioxide levels peaked at 419 parts per million, the fourth highest reading since 1958. Notably, between April and June 2022, levels even exceeded 420 ppm. These statistics are based on data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States Department of Commerce.

The main source of carbon dioxide emissions is the combustion of organic substances such as coal, oil, gas, wood and solid waste.

The journal Nature recently published a study on February 21, 2023 revealing that numerous countries, particularly in Europe, have reached their highest levels of CO2 emissions and are now on a reduction path. The study attributes this decline in carbon dioxide emissions to a series of crises that unfolded between 2019 and 2023, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession, and the conflict in Ukraine.

Methane (CH4)

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is emitted from a variety of sources, including landfills, the natural gas and oil sectors, and agriculture (primarily through the digestive processes of grazing animals). Although a molecule of methane does not remain in the atmosphere as long as a carbon dioxide molecule (approximately 12 years), its power in a period of two decades is at least 84 times greater. Methane contributes approximately 16% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Nitrous oxide N2O

According to the IPCC, nitrous oxide, although it only accounts for about 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, is significantly more potent than carbon dioxide, with a power 264 times greater in a period of 20 years. Furthermore, its useful life in the atmosphere exceeds a century. The main contributors to nitrous oxide emissions are agricultural and livestock practices, which encompasses the use of fertilizers, manure management and the combustion of agricultural waste. Fuel burning also plays an important role in releasing nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

Uses of greenhouse gases in industry

Refrigerants, solvents, and manufacturing byproducts encompass the various uses of F-gases, including hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). These gases have an extraordinary capacity to trap heat, thousands of times more powerful than CO2, and persist in the atmosphere for long periods ranging from hundreds to thousands of years. Despite constituting only approximately 2% of total emissions, its significant impact cannot be overlooked.

Most of the technologies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are already available. An example of this is the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, along with the implementation of measures to improve energy efficiency and discourage carbon emissions by imposing a financial cost on them.

Reduce the emission of pollutants

greenhouse gases

To prevent the Earth from exceeding a temperature rise of 1,5 degrees Celsius, it is crucial to recognize that the world has already used four-fifths of its 2,8 trillion metric ton “carbon budget.” Stopping the current trajectory will require more than simply phasing out fossil fuel use.

In fact, strategies to curb global warming by 1,5 or 2 degrees Celsius, as described by the IPCC, are based on the implementation of methods to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. These methods cover activities such as reforestation, preservation of existing forests and grasslands, and capture of CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial facilities.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about greenhouse gases and their characteristics.

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