Elements of the Climate System

Energy from the Sun drives the Earth's weather and climate. The atmospheric gases are nitrogen, oxygen, and the trace gases, including the noble gases and the greenhouse gases (water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, ozone, and nitrous oxide). These greenhouse gases trap some of the energy from the Sun, creating a natural greenhouse effect, without which normal temperatures would be much lower and the Earth would be too cold to live on. Thanks to the greenhouse effect, the Earth's average temperature is 60°F (16°C). Problems begin when the natural greenhouse effect is enhanced by human-generated emissions of greenhouse gases. Scientists now predict that the Earth's climate will change because human activities are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases. In order to understand global warming, it is necessary to understand climate. This chapter introduces the elements of the climate system. It distin guishes climate from weather, introduces the concept of global systems, provides an overview of the atmosphere's physical structure, and introduces the greenhouse effect and global warming.

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