Explaining the Greenhouse Effect

Prompted by my (no doubt vain?) attempt to hold a sensible discussion about the greenhouse effect in a rather hostile environment, we have just added a brand new page to the long list of Great White Con educational resources:

Greenhouse Effect Explanations

A very brief history of the science of the greenhouse effect, courtesy of Ed Hawkins:

In the 1820s, the French mathematician Joseph Fourier was trying to understand the various factors that affect Earth’s temperature. But he found a problem – according to his calculations, the Earth should have been a ball of ice.

In 1861, the Irish physicist John Tyndall performed an experiment which changed our view of the atmosphere. Tyndall demonstrated that gases such as methane and carbon dioxide absorbed infrared radiation, and could trap heat within the atmosphere.

Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, provided the first numerical estimates of “climate sensitivity” – defined as the temperature change corresponding to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He suggested a value around 4°C in 1896.

In 1938, Guy Stewart Callendar revealed evidence for a 0.3°C rise in global temperatures over the previous 50 years.

Much more recently “Tamino” has just penned an article on his Open Mind blog entitled:

Global Warming Basics: Greenhouse Gas

and Rasmus Benestad has written an article for RealClimate entitled

What is the best description of the greenhouse effect?

Intriguingly the supplementary materials accompanying Rasmus’ paper include ‘R’ source code!

If you have any constructive comments to make about efforts to explain the physics of the greenhouse effect to a lay audience and/or our new resource on that topic please feel free to do so in the space provided below.

1 thought on “Explaining the Greenhouse Effect

  1. I think of it this way: sunlight warms the ground. The ground radiates infrared. Greenhouse gases in the air absorb the infrared and heat up. They radiate. Some of the radiation from the air goes back to the ground. Thus you have both sunshine and “airshine” (technical term: atmospheric back-radiation) warming the ground, and the ground is warmer than it would be from sunshine alone.

    The sun is warm. The air is warm. The ground gets radiation from both.

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