I was wondering if you would know what the mechanisms are that cause carbon dioxide to trap heat inside the atmosphere?
Submitted by: Colleen
The mechanism by which carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere is commonly referred to as the "greenhouse effect." Stated very simply, carbon dioxide, or CO2, is nearly transparent to the solar radiation emitted from the sun, but partially opaque to the thermal radiation emitted by the earth. As such, it allows incoming solar radiation from the sun to pass through it and warm the earth's surface. The earth's surface, in turn, emitts a portion of this energy upwards toward space as longer wavelength or thermal radiation. Some of this thermal radiation is absorbed and re-radiated by the atmosphere's CO2 molecules back toward earth's surface, providing an additional source of heat energy. Without water vapor, CO2, and other radiatively-active trace gases in the air, the planet's average temperature would be about 34°C cooler than it is at present.