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Mains Test Series

Atmosphere and Weather systems

Q. How do greenhouse gas emissions disrupt the heat budget on the Earth? Discuss.


The Earth receives solar insolation in the form of short waves. These are either reflected, scattered or absorbed by the Earth’s surface. Earth then releases this as the longwave terrestrial radiation. The Earth maintains a constant temperature through this give and take. This is the heat budget of Earth.

The law of conservation of energy thus governs Earth’s energy balance.

Everything You Need To Know About Atmosphere And Weather Systems Mains Test

Heat budget:

Impact of Greenhouse gases:

The greenhouse effect is the process by which the greenhouse gases absorb the longwave terrestrial radiation. This changes the heat balance of the Earth to a higher temperature.

Greenhouse gases can disrupt the heat budget in the following ways:

  1. More longwave radiation is absorbed by the atmospheric gases, particularly carbon dioxide, water vapour and other greenhouse gases heating the atmosphere.
  2. Lower Albedo from permafrost: When solar radiation passes through the atmosphere, a certain amount of it is either scattered, reflected or absorbed. The reflected sum of radiation is the Albedo of the Earth. If ice caps melt, this will lower the Albedo, leading to higher energy uptake and warming.
  3. More water-vapour release: Higher temperatures will lead to more humidity on Earth, which will, in turn, capture more heat.

However, there is also negative feedback: More humidity will mean more clouds and thus higher Albedo.

In sum, more greenhouse gases will change the energy equilibrium of the Earth to a higher side, raising its temperature.

Secondary impacts of the change in heat budget: 

  1. Climate change/Rise in temperature
  2. Melting of glaciers or ice caps
  3. Warming of oceans and acidification: A higher amount of GHGs like carbon dioxide makes the ocean more acidic. This endangers all Calcerious marine life and coral reefs.
  4. Natural calamities: Climate change exacerbates extreme rainfall and flooding, causing more destructive storms.

Conclusion: A change in the heat budget due to the release of the CO2 is inevitable. The world’s only option is to adhere to the Paris Agreement and somehow limit the temperature rise to 2oC. Further, India must build higher resilience against disasters to face the emerging consequences.

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