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What are Greenhouse Gases (GHG)?

Greenhouse gases, also known as GHG, are a group of gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that absorb and store heat waves or infrared radiation sent from the sun to the Earth’s surface. They store these heatwaves away in the form of heat, also known as the “greenhouse effect.” This helps maintain the balance of surface temperature on Earth and does not cause sudden changes in the atmosphere during the day and night. Hence, Earth’s temperature can be kept within the range suitable for living organisms.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere:

Carbon dioxide CO2

Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that stores and releases the most heat in the atmosphere. Approximately 75% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a lifetime of about 200 years.

Natural sources of carbon dioxide include volcanic eruptions and the decomposition of organic matter.

Meanwhile, most carbon dioxide emissions are man-made. Carbon emissions are released by burning fossil fuels, coal, oil, and natural gas. Deforestation also contributes significantly to increasing the carbon content in the atmosphere because fewer trees mean less CO2 can be converted. Trees absorb CO2 and release oxygen in the process of photosynthesis.

Volcanic eruptions are a natural source of carbon dioxide

Methane CH4

Methane is the second most emitted greenhouse gas at 16%. Methane stores heat 84 times better than carbon dioxide, and the residence time of methane in the atmosphere is 12 years, the shortest in the greenhouse gas category.

Natural sources of methane include wetlands such as swamps, lakes, rivers but also geological sources or animals.

Approximately 60% is produced by human activities such as biomass burning, landfills, livestock, and the mining of fossil fuel.

Landfills are a human activity that produces greenhouse gases

Nitrous oxide N2O

It is a gas that has 260 times more influence on the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide and its lifetime in the atmosphere is more than a century.

N20 occurs naturally in oceans, in the decomposition of organic material, and by various bacteria in the soil.
The main man-made emissions of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere are from combustion processes such as biomass burning and agriculture.

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Livestock production is a source of methane.

Fluorinated gases or halogenated hydrocarbons (fluorinated gases).

A group of gases consisting of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), and CFCs produced by human synthesis. These gases have the potential to trap heat in the atmosphere thousands of times better than carbon dioxide. These gases have a lifetime of 100-50000 years in the atmosphere.

The source of fluorinated gases is mainly from the industrial sector, where they are used as precursors for the production of refrigerants and solvents.

In addition, CFCs are ozone-depleting gases in the stratosphere that cause atmospheric leakage. They allow ultraviolet rays to shine on the earth’s surface, which is harmful to living things.

Atmospheric age(GWP) and global warming potential (times of carbon dioxide) Lifetime(y)

Water vapor, ground-level ozone.

Water vapor is a natural greenhouse gas that promotes the enhancement of other types of greenhouse gases. The increase in water vapor is due to the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Terrestrial ozone is a greenhouse gas produced by photochemical reactions with nitrogen oxides (NOx) in engine exhaust, factory exhaust, ultraviolet radiation, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that is an air pollutant harmful to living things.

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The accumulation of greenhouse gases has increased exponentially. From the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century onwards.
Temperature data show that global temperatures have warmed rapidly over the past few decades. Data up to 2019 (Source: Image courtesy of NASA/NOAA)

Greenhouse gases are both of natural origin and due to human activities. Normally, greenhouse gases keep the climate in balance. The problem, however, is when this balance is disturbed and the accumulation increases. Human influence is the main factor in the exponentially increasing accumulation of greenhouse gases, since the industrial revolution in the 18th century. They have far-reaching effects on living things, weather, the environment and are the main source of climate change.

Consequences such as Global Warming, diseases, severe natural disasters could be just the beginning. Species extinction could be another consequence. Living things that cannot adapt to the change in global temperature are threatened with extinction.

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