Global Warming

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global WARMING IS a term that is used to refer to an increase in Earth's average surface temperature. It is due mostly to the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere by human-fuelled activities such as increased fossil fuel consumption leading to the release of carbon dioxide (CO2), the increasing use of automobiles, the use of nitrogen base fertilizers, and rearing and breeding large methane-belching cattle. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, halocarbons (chlorofluo-rocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons), methane, and ozone have the capability of absorbing infrared radiation from the Earth's surface, thereby altering the heat balance of the Earth.

The gases later warm the Earth's surface by emitting trapped energy. When GHGs absorb radiation, the stratosphere becomes warm and then re-emits infrared radiation back to the Earth's surface. This warming of the Earth's troposphere is commonly known as the greenhouse effect. Global warming potential (GWP) is usually expressed in relation to carbon dioxide, which is given a relative global warming potential of one. Methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons are assigned a GWP of 23, 296, and 12,000 respectively. This means that methane is 23 times as potent a GHG as carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide is 296 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

Many human processes ranging from industry, transportation, power stations, agriculture, fossil fuel development and usage, to residential and commercial activities have variously led to the production of high amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), water vapor, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Of these activities, agriculture contributes the largest amount of methane (40 percent) and nitrous oxide (62 percent), while the combination of industrial processes, power stations, fossil fuel processing and development, with residential and commercial activities contributing over 82 percent of the total carbon dioxide produced by the entire human activities.

carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide is the primary driver of global warming. It is freely available in the Earth's atmosphere, released by man and other animals, and used up by plants in the processes of respiration and photosynthesis. CO2 is a product of the combustion of carbon related compounds such as fossil fuels and organic matter; it can be produced synthetically by acidification and decomposition of metallic carbonates, among other methods of chemical reaction. However, CO2 is produced industrially through different processes of combustion of carbonaceous fuels, decomposition of calcium carbonates, fermentation, and from gas wells. It can also result from the oxygenation of the product of the incomplete combustion of automobile and generator fuels.

It has great industrial uses in the food, oil, and chemical industries. Of all the GHGs, it occupies the center stage of the world's basic discussion on global warming and climate change because of its effect on the environment. Human activities have contributed to a significant increase in atmospheric levels of CO2. These concentrations have increased by 33 percent, from around 280 parts per million (ppm) as recently as the late 1700s, to 316 ppm in 1959, to 373 ppm in 2002. In the stratosphere, it is highly stable and could exist in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. This stability period means it cannot be eliminated from the Earth's atmosphere, but can only be indirectly reduced by reducing the activities producing it.

Carbon dioxide's importance in greenhouse effect is based on its ability to absorb much of the electromagnetic radiation below the visible light wavelength, trapping heat radiation that attempts to escape from the Earth, thereby causing an increase in the Earth's temperature. It is reported that doubling of CO2 produces a temperature rise between 2.7-9 degrees F (1.5-5 degrees C), leading to a warming of between 0.9-3 degrees F (0.5-1.7 degrees C). Also, it has been established that CO2 has significant effect in increasing the global surface temperature of the Earth's atmosphere, and of the GHGs (excluding water vapor), it is the most powerful, with a radiative forcing of 1.5 W/m.2.

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