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commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning

  • Methane. A hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock. On a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere.
  • Nitrous oxide. A powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Synthetic compounds entirely of industrial origin used in a number of applications, but now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement for their ability to contribute to destruction of the ozone layer. They are also greenhouse gases.
Not enough greenhouse effect: The planet Mars has a very thin atmosphere, nearly all carbon dioxide. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, and with little to no methane or water vapor to reinforce the weak greenhouse effect, Mars has a largely frozen surface that shows no evidence of life.
Not enough greenhouse effect: The planet Mars has a very thin atmosphere, nearly all carbon dioxide. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, and with little to no methane or water vapor to reinforce the weak greenhouse effect, Mars has a largely frozen surface that shows no evidence of life.
Too much greenhouse effect: The atmosphere of Venus, like Mars, is nearly all carbon dioxide. But Venus has about 154,000 times as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Earth (and about 19,000 times as much as Mars does), producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.
Too much greenhouse effect: The atmosphere of Venus, like Mars, is nearly all carbon dioxide. But Venus has about 154,000 times as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Earth (and about 19,000 times as much as Mars does), producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The consequences of changing the natural atmospheric greenhouse are difficult to predict, but certain effects seem likely:

  • On average, Earth will become warmer. Some regions may welcome warmer temperatures, but others may not.
  • Warmer conditions will probably lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall, but individual regions will vary, some becoming wetter and others dryer.
  • A stronger greenhouse effect will warm the oceans and partially melt glaciers and other ice, increasing sea level. Ocean water also will expand if it warms, contributing further to sea level rise.
  • Meanwhile,