This article is supported by brilliant org’ few weeks ago. I I did a bad thing, so the Amazon was on fire. It was all over the news. You guys remember that and on the are ludicrous future podcast. I repeated the fact that many other youtubers had quoted out there, which is that the Amazon rainforest produces 20 % of the world’s, oxygen supply, and now I’m joining that same slew of youtubers.
By correcting myself, I put myself in penance earlier, the whole 20 % thing. Is it’s, just one of those little facts that spread around? Not because people are trying to be misleading, but it’s because it’s.
A sort of a shorthand you know I mean that the Amazon is super important, that’s clear. We all know that so to say that it creates 20 % of the world’s, oxygen supply. You know I mean it just sort of illustrates that point.
It might not be true, but it feels true truthiness as they say, and the climate issue is loaded with truthiness statements like that, because you know it’s, a big huge, complex topic and you kind of just need a shorthand, or else you’ll just lose your mind and a lot of the shorthand around climate change has centered on co2 carbon dioxide.
It’s, become the big bad that everybody’s, focusing on everybody’s talking about, but it’s not as simple as that and it doesn’t work exactly the way everybody thinks it Does the real culprit when it comes to climate change is something completely different, something you might not.
Expect’, greenhouse gases have been a part of the Earth’s climate since the very beginning, and that’s, a good thing too, without some kind of layer keeping some of this heat trapped in here. It would all just radiate back out into space making the earth too cold for liquid water to form – and this is exactly the case on Mars – water just sublimates from ice into gas.
It just kind of what’s surprising about greenhouse gas. Really is how little of it there actually is. The composition of Earth’s. Atmosphere is 78 percent in nitrogen 20.9 % oxygen and around 0.93 % argon.
Everything else in our atmosphere, including all the greenhouse gases, makes a point zero, four percent. How could such a small part of our atmosphere make such a big difference? How did greenhouse gases work? So you already know the broad-strokes greenhouse gases keep heat trapped in the atmosphere, but when we’re talking about heat this context anyway, what we’re, really talking about is infrared radiation.
Visible light from the Sun travels to the atmosphere almost completely unpaid, it it scatters a little bit in the various edges of the spectrum, but for the most part it travels straight down to the ground and warms up the ground.
And when I say ground I mean surface, obviously, most of the earth is water, and the amount of warming on the surface has to do with a few things. First of all, how direct the sunlight is because the less atmosphere that travels through the less it can scatter and the other is the color of the surface on the ground.
If it’s, a darker color, it’s. Gon na absorb more heat, if it’s, lighter it’s, gon na reflect most of it back up. This is known as the albedo and as the surface gets warmer, it radiates that heat out in the form of infrared radiation.
This is what actually interacts with the greenhouse gases without greenhouse gases. This would just radiate out into space and s’mores, but greenhouse gases trap that energy in our atmosphere, and they do this a couple of different ways, both of which have to do with their molecular bonds and to get a better idea of what Makes greenhouse gases different? It helps to kind of look at their molecular structure as compared to non greenhouse gases.
The non greenhouse gases on the left, as you can see, they all consist of only one or two atoms from the same element. This gives them a strong covalent bond and no charge. They are electrically neutral and far more important for our purposes here.
It makes them invisible to infrared radiation, whereas the greenhouse gases have multiple bonds of atoms, of different elements, giving them a slight electric charge and the ability to bend and flex. So when a photon and certain wavelengths of infrared pass close to the molecule it gets absorbed by an electrical field, this extra energy resonates through the bonds causing them to stretch and oscillate and Bend.
Eventually, this photon escapes back out into the world as infrared radiation, which travels in all directions out towards space back toward the ground or across the atmosphere where it can interact with other greenhouse gas molecules, and this is actually illustrated really well in this experiment right here.
Where they light a candle and then put an infrared camera on it, going through a clear acrylic cylinder and in the infrared spectrum, you can see that flame very distinctly outlined in the infrared camera and then when they fill that tunnel with co2, it starts to scatter That infrared radiation around to the point that you can’t see it at all anymore, that’s because the co2 is absorbing and then scattering the infrared radiation coming off of that candle.
So not only are these molecules bouncing in for red radiation around the atmosphere they’re, also bending and flexing and vibrating, while doing so. This puts extra energy in the atmosphere. How much energy it puts into the atmosphere depends a lot on its structure.
In its charge, so carbon dioxide with two bonds traps a certain amount of energy methane with four bonds traps, far more and sulfur hexafluoride, with six bonds traps 24,000 times more energy than carbon dioxide.
So when people ask what’s, the worst greenhouse gas, it’s kind of hard to get worse than sulfur hexafluoride. On top of the fact that it traps insane amounts of heat, it’s, also completely man-made, meaning every molecule of it.
That’s up in our atmosphere. Is there because we put it there and because it’s, an inert gas, it doesn’t react with anything which means it stays in our atmosphere, basically forever like 800 to 3200 years, but it can make you talk like this.
I mean you know there’s, that it’s, also, apparently the air in nike air shoes. For some reason, the good news is that we don’t really make very much of this stuff, even though the numbers of it in our atmosphere are going up.
It’s still being measured in the parts per trillion. In fact, its contribution to atmospheric warming is considered to be 0.2 %, so what gases contribution to warming in the atmosphere is partly about how much heat it can retain, but it’s also about how much is in the atmosphere.
So when taking that into account the amount each contributes to trapping heat in the atmosphere, it looks like this, you might notice. One is missing a big one. It has the right combination of energy, absorption and quantity to make it by far the top most powerful greenhouse gas.
It’s named water h2o. You might notice the resemblance to the other greenhouse gases with it’s. A hundred and forty three degree double bond and electric charge. It’s, a perfect little catcher’s, mitt for any wandering photons in a particular infrared range.
So the more water vapor in the air, the warmer the air, becomes that’s. Humidity, I mean you’ve all heard the term it’s, not the heat. It’s. The humidity well yeah exactly so banned water, I guess obviously, with the world being 80 % water, that not an option and besides you, don’t have to ban water because there’s, already sort of a release valve for water.
In the atmosphere it’s called rain. You’ve, seen it in movies, usually falling on John Cusack’s head water vapor eventually reaches a saturation point, at which point it condenses down into clouds. Those clouds fall to the ground as rain.
The rain then evaporates back up into the clouds, and all that cycle continues again that’s called the water cycle. This release valve in the system has been keeping our climate relatively stable for the past.
Several thousand years, but if you look back over deep time it hasn’t, always been stable. Everything from asteroid impacts to volcanic eruptions that just the wobble on our axis have messed with this release valve by changing the amount of water vapor, our atmosphere can hold cold air condenses and hot air expands.
We see this day in and day out, all throughout our lives, that’s, why the mirror fogs up in the bathroom when you run hot water, because that hot steam meets the cold mirror surface, that’s! Why you get dew on the ground in the morning when the temperature drops in the middle of the night, that’s? Why hot air balloons rise because the heat inside the balloon expands the air inside of it, making it less dense that way it rises up through the atmosphere just like a bubble, and water, hot and cold equates to higher and lower energy states.
So the higher amount of energy there is in an atmosphere, the more water vapor it can hold water vapor, which traps more heat, which creates room for more water vapor, which makes more heat, which evaporates the water on the ground and puts more water vapor up into The air climate science is littered with feedback loops like this, so something has to raise the energy level of the atmosphere just a little bit just enough to where it can make more room for that water vapor to get up there and start that process – and this Is where those other greenhouse gases come in sulfur hexafluoride, ozone, methane co2.
Once we release that stuff into the atmosphere they absorb, that infrared radiation, trap that heat and make room for more water. Vapor. The more of this we put up there, the more energy they add volcanoes added copious amounts of greenhouse gases, specifically co2 and methane, and that changed the climate.
Back in the day today, we’re, the ones adding copious amounts of greenhouse gases all day. Every day, all around the world, our society is basically a small volcano that just never stops erupting and by the way, the way the air expands when it gets hot sings the happens in the oceans.
You know you hear a lot of stories about the oceans rising here, a lot of stories about glaciers, melting and in our heads. I think most of us just put those two things together. Oceans are rising because glaciers are melting.
That makes sense. I mean that feels right. It feels truthy yeah that’s, not what’s happening sure. That sounds right, but proportionally that would be like dropping an ice cube in a swimming pool and then expecting the swimming pool to overflow.
There is a lot of ocean out there in the world and, yes, it’s, a bad thing that the glaciers are melting, but that’s, not what’s, causing it to rise? Quite simply, the warm of the oceans get the more they expand.
Just like the air. The ocean expands sea level rises, as Simon Clarke points out in this article sea levels have been rising at an accelerating rate since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the increase of expansion per degree of temperature.
It’s, not a linear thing. It goes up every single degree, so the warmer the water gets the more it’s. Gon na expand over time. Liquid water is fickle. The conditions required for it to exist. The range of temperatures and pressures are incredibly narrow.
Actually, when you look at it in the big picture, most planets don’t, have it in fact so far this is the only planet we know of that. Has liquid water on its surface, water is powerful, it shapes our land and defines the borders on which we can live atmospheres that can carry more water, vapor create stronger storms, and this is something that we see every year this time of year in hurricane season, messing With that water vapor release valve it’s, just a bad idea, and that’s.
Why you hear so much talk about co2 out there? These days it’s, not so much that the co2 itself is warming, the atmosphere. I mean it is to a small extent, but it’s. Really it’s, really more of a Trojan horse, opening the gates to one of the most powerful forces in the history of our species.
Let’s. Keep that gate closed shall we, when it comes down to it all of this, the expansion contraction of water, evaporation, the water cycle, all that stuff, it’s really just physics, and if you really want to get a better idea of the kind of Physics that guide our everyday lives, you might want to check out physics of the everyday.
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