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Greenhouse GasesGreenhouse Gases

The Basics

Think about what would happen if you put salt in your cookie dough instead of sugar. Yuck! When you follow a recipe, you need to measure the right amount of ingredients to get the best results. It’s all about balance. In a similar way, the Earth maintains a balance of "ingredients" in the atmosphere. These ingredients are gases, such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.

Some gases have the ability to trap the sun’s energy and warm the Earth. This helps balance the Earth’s temperature, keeping it stable over time. However, too few or too many of these gases in the atmosphere can mess up the balancing act. Human activities increase the amount of these gases, causing a “greenhouse effect” that makes the Earth’s temperature rise.

What are the greenhouse gases?

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas. Other greenhouse gases include:

  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Ozone
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

What human activities increase greenhouse gases?

Activities that can increase greenhouse gases include:

  • Fossil fuel use (burning oil, coal, propane, diesel fuel, natural gas, and gasoline)
  • Electricity production
  • Industrial processes
  • Farming (manure gases)
  • Landfills
  • Deforestation (cutting down trees)
  • Wastewater management

Did you know ?

Methane is a major greenhouse gas. Farm animals are an important source of methane in the atmosphere, because belching and flatulence, which are part of their digestive processes, produce methane.

Learn More

Explore the links below to learn more about greenhouse gases, including what you can do to protect the environment.

Read About It Read About It

Carbon Dioxide (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Human impact on the carbon cycle and how to effectively reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Overview of greenhouse gases, causal sources, and data on gas emissions.

Global Warming is Hot Stuff (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) - Description of greenhouse effect and gases, global warming, how to participate in the solution, and a glossary of terms.

Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming (Clean Air Kids United Kingdom) - Information and games/puzzles on the dangers of global warming and the greenhouse effect.

Greenhouse Gases Threaten Public Health and the Environment (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - News article released by the EPA stressing how greenhouse gases threaten public health and the environment.

Study Links Carbon Dioxide Emissions to Increased Deaths (Stanford University) - News article on how carbon dioxide emissions can lead to increased mortality.

Videos Videos

Greenhouse Effect (Twin Cities Public Television) - Teacher's guide to teaching greenhouse effect; provides an informational video.

Greenhouse Effect (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) - Animated lecture on the greenhouse effect

Experiments and Projects Experiments and Projects

Earth on Fire (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) - Activity to calculate and compare the amount of CO2 released in the atmosphere by fossil-fuel burning and the actual increase of atmospheric CO2.

Getting a Handle on Greenhouse Gases (PDF, 34.48 KB)(Pima County, Department of Environmental Quality) - PDF activity for students to learn about their family's impact on the greenhouse effect.

Homework Help Homework Help

Climate Resources/Fact Sheets (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) - Frequently asked questions on climate change.

Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) - Describes the relevance of the Clean Air Act, key elements of it, how it works, and information on ways to reduce air pollution.

For Teachers For Teachers

Getting a Handle on Greenhouse Gases (PDF, 34.48 KB)(Pima County, Department of Environmental Quality) - PDF activity for students to learn about their family's impact on the greenhouse effect.