The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere. As a result, the temperature there is higher than it would be if direct heating by solar radiation were the only warming mechanism.
This mechanism is fundamentally different from that of an actual greenhouse, which works by isolating warm air inside the structure so that heat is not lost by convection.
The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824, first reliably experimented on by John Tyndall in 1858, and first reported quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.
If an ideal thermally conductive blackbody was the same distance from the Sun as the Earth is, it would have a temperature of about 5.3 °C. However, since the Earth reflects about 30% (or 28%) of the incoming sunlight, the planet's effective temperature (the temperature of a blackbody that would emit the same amount of radiation) is about −18 or −19 °C, about 33°C below the actual surface temperature of about 14 °C or 15 °C. The mechanism that produces this difference between the actual surface temperature and the effective temperature is due to the atmosphere and is known as the greenhouse effect.
Global warming, a recent warming of the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere, is believed to be the result of a strengthening of the greenhouse effect mostly due to human-produced increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases.
The Earth receives energy from the Sun in the form of visible light. This light is absorbed at the Earth's surface, and re-radiated as thermal radiation. Some of this thermal radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere, and re-radiated both upwards and downwards; that radiated downwards is absorbed by the Earth's surface. Thus the presence of the atmosphere results in the surface receiving more radiation than it would were the atmosphere absent; and it is thus warmer than it would otherwise be.
Full article ▸