Global Warming

What is it?

Global warming is, as the name would suggest, the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's air surface and ocean. This process occurs when greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and nitrous oxide, trap heat and light. An analogy to this is to think of a car on a sunny day. The windows and doors trap the heat inside making it hotter inside the car than outside of the car. This gradual increase in temperature, in terms of the environment, is harmful because it threatens the ecosystems of many species of plants and animals. When an ecosystem is altered, the wildlife that depends upon it is threated and species can eventually begin to die out. This destruction of species results in that of a chain reaction because of the close dependence of species on other species. For example, if a small fish is run to extinction then the bird that eats it will soon die out and the bear that eats that bird will soon grow extinct as well. Nature is a balance of relationships and if this balance is placed in disarray, like with that of Global Warming, the results can be detrimental.

Greenhouse Gases

Although Green house gases, or gases that absorb and emits radiation in the inferred range, make up very little of the atmosphere they affect the functions of the Earth greatly. The primary greenhouse gases are listed and elaborated upon below:

Water Vapor

Water vapor, or the gas phase of water, varies with: altitude, season, and temperature. It varies due to the fact that it spends such little time in the atmosphere. This fact allows water vapor to be any where between zero to four percent of Earth's atmosphere. Effects of a large quantity of water vapor can cause the clouds, which contain it, to trap heat within the atmosphere and reflect the heat back towards Earth. So even though water vapor can’t make a huge impact because of the little time it spends in the atmosphere, it can still play a part in Global Warming.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide, while not as powerful as water vapor, has long term lasting results because it can stay within the atmosphere for around 100 years and it has the capability to spread evenly across the Earth's entire atmosphere. This spreading is potentially detrimental because it allows CO2 not only to ruin 1 ecosystem, but in theory all.


Methane can remain in the Earth's atmosphere for about a decade, but it is less effective at spreading then CO2, even though it is twenty times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat within the atmosphere.

Carbon Dioxide: A Major Player

When research first began on Global Warming, Joseph Fourier was one of the first scientists to begin research and his thesis was "The greenhouse effect is the process by which absorption and emission of infrared radiation by gases in the atmosphere warm a planet's lower atmosphere and surface." This claim was further investigated by scientist like Svante Arrhenius and has produced the current research that shows that carbon dioxide results in 9-26% of the cause of global warming and water vapor results in 39-70%, thus making these 2 Greenhouse gases the 2 major players.
Though not as effective in causing Global Warming as water vapor, CO2 is more prominently pointed to as the culprit because most of the CO2 in the atmosphere is caused by human's doing. Human's actions such as the development of machines and factories have caused CO2 emission, but by far the most detrimental action has been interrupting the process and balance that is cellular respiration and photosynthesis.

How do Cellular Respiration and Photosynthesis Play a Role?

In photosynthesis (undergone just by plants):
CO2 +H2O + energy from sun ==> O2 + sugar
While in Cellular Respiration (undergone by plants and animals):
Sugar + O2 ==> CO2 +H20 + energy
These 2 reactions represent a closely related balance in Earth's environment; the process of Photosynthesis takes the waste product of Cellular Respiration, CO2, and uses it to make energy, while Cellular Respiration uses the waste product of Photosynthesis, O2, and uses it to make energy. This relationship is good and beneficial to both parties, until this balance is interrupted. Human action such as deforestation have caused this relationship to deteriorate. When humans cut down and destroy plants, they are destroying the avenue to get rid of CO2 gases because while plants use CO2 they can only use so much at a time and when this extent is reached this causes an excess in the Earth's atmosphere. This excess places CO2, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere which contributes to Global Warming. Cellular Respiration is one of the avenues which adds CO2 into the atmosphere because it gives off CO2 as a waste product. It appears that as long as the population of animals increases and deforestation occurs Global Warming is almost to become an inevitable fate of planet Earth if not dealt with properly.

Other Ways CO2 Enters the Atmosphere

This excess is reached in a countless amount of ways. One way, which has already been referred to, is simply by cellular respiration itself because it emits CO2 as a waste product. Another way carbon is emitted is by the decay of organisms; when an organism deteriorates then CO2 is released within the atmosphere. This idea
carbon_emissions_pic.pngof dead organisms releasing CO2 supports the fossil fuel theory. The fossil fuel theory says that fossil fuels are the by products and fossilized remains of plants and animals that when burned provide energy and the waste product of CO2. Because the plants and animals that make up fossil fuel never fully decayed, the carbon dioxide that was intended to be gradually released over the time spand of around 10 million years is now stored within the fossil fuel. When these fossil fuels are burned, that large quantity of stored CO2 is released as an output. Since there is a lot of CO2 trapped in the oceans, as the temperature rises, the CO2 is released, this is called oceanic carbon dioxide.
While there is some discrepency among scientists concering the effects of carbon dioxide it is cleary a major player in global warming and carbon dioxide emissions have been addressed in Europe by the Kyoto Protocol and a further reduction in emissions is expected in 2012

Thus while there are several ways carbon dioxide is used not all of these ways are the same. While in respiration carbon dioxide is emitted that has just been used in fossil fuels a greater quantity is emitted. All organisms emit carbon dioxide, weather dead or alive, which plants then use to grow. Carbon dioxide is also emitted when ice melts and can be harbored in ice or water.


Before there were plants or animals on the Earth, carbon dioxide levels were about 80 percent of the earths atmosphere. But with the evolution of organisms that reduced these levels, the Earth became a place that could sustain life. However now, studies have shown that due to human industrial activities have pushed carbon dioxide levels higher than they have been in 650,000 years and likely millions of years.

Balancing Act
Left to cope with the changing environment the Earth has responded by changing features of its biosphere, such as temperature, thus resulting in global warming.
Sometimes small changes over long periods of times have big effects. Such has been occurring every year with the plants being destroyed and the industrial systems steadily increasing. This in turn increases the amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Inertia states that once a ball is moving it will continue to move until an opposing force stops it, this applies to the climate system in that even if we stopped all carbon emissions the effects of over 200 years of carbon emissions would continue to be felt for decades more. There are both positive and negative effects of global warming, positive referring to the fact that they increase global warming and negative that they decrease it. As temperatures rise the amount of water vapor that can be contained in the air rises increasing the ability for water to play an important role in global warming. Thus resulting in more clouds and heat being reflected onto the Earth, on the other hand a negative effect would be that clouds also reflect heat and light into space decreasing temperature changes. Another positive effect would be the melting of ice caps thus releasing all the gases that the ice has trapped at an astonishing rate. One last negative impact would be the increase in oceanic intake, the fact that carbon is stored in oceans.
However all of these effects have tipping points, where they can switch from positive to negative. For example forests are an immense cushion on which the world relies to rid us of carbon dioxide but if they are being cut down at a rate faster than they can consume carbon dioxide their effects will cancel out, because when they die they also emit carbon dioxide. Even the oceans can only take so much carbon, at least two studies (Le Quere and Le Science) both show that the rate at which the southern and Atlantic Oceans intake carbon dioxide has been slowing. These are the two oceans that intake the most carbon dioxide because they are the coldest and the colder an ocean is the more it carbon dioxide it can take in. Methane is also a dangerous greenhouse gas in that it is twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide, though rare it is found in ground that has been at or below 0 degrees for more than two years or permafrost. Around the world houses and roads have been built on this permanently frozen ground, however it is no longer a given that it is frozen because it has been melting at an unprecedented rate. When it melts the methane is released back into the atmosphere.
Currently scientists turn to the sea for help on this troublesome issue. The ocean is considered a sea of light and before it was thought that phytoplankton were the only organisms that could preform photosynthesis because they were the only ones that had chlorophyll. However in 2000 a team of swedish and spanish scientists discovered that marine bacteria could survive by a unique photoprotein; American scientists have named this gene: proteorhodopsin. There are three major classifications
of bacterioplankton: marine cynobacteria, proteobacteria genome, and bacteroidetes. The last group has had very little research done on them but they contain the gene of proteorhodpsin, this gene preforms photosynthesis and allows these bacteria to have dual forms of survival, when there is no food available th
ey can revert to photosynthesis in the sun lit ocean. Since there can be about a billion of these tiny organisms in one liter of sea water they are important in determining the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Lately more and more of these organisms have been found and with carbon emissions higher than ever it is no surprise evolution has decided to create them.

Another solution would be for humans to stop deforestation and to repopulate the plant population through growing and to reduce the CO2 output into the atmosphere. Ways to reduce the CO2 output would be by investigating other means for energy such as wind or solar. These options are available in this age of technology, but the human race needs to just place them into effect before it is to late.