Global Climate Change The Exploratorium
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The greenhouse effect is actually essential to our existence: The sun warms the earth, and certain gases (including carbon dioxide and water vapor) act like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat and keeping the planet’s surface warm enough to support life. However, measuring humanity’s effect on the concentration of greenhouse gases is a key issue in understanding global climate change. Industry and other human activity add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This strengthens the greenhouse effect and may cause a significant warming trend.

Understanding how the atmosphere works is fundamental to understanding climate change. The atmosphere is composed of layers of air, each with its own temperature patterns. Researchers must determine whether changes in temperature or air circulation are part of complex, longer-term cycles. And the interconnections between air, sea, and land mean that any change could have multiple causes—and multiple effects.


 glossary glossary terms  

Click for definitions of words used on this page:

carbondioxide
climate
energy budget
electromagnetic radiation
greenhouse effect
greenhouse gases

View the full, printable version of the glossary.



Global Outgoing Shortwave Heat Radiation thumbnail

Global Outgoing Longwave Heat Radiation - CERES instrument team
short-term data


Global Outgoing Shortwave Heat Radiation thumbnail

Global Reflected Shortwave Solar Radiation - CERES instrument team
short-term data


Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Records thumbnail

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Records from Mauna Loa, Hawaii
(1958–2000)
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Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center
short-term data

Global Average Near-Surface Temperatures thumbnail

Global Average Near-Surface Temperatures —Monthly Anomalies
(1961–2002)
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The Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research
short-term data

Global Stratospheric and Tropospheric Temperatures thumbnail

Global Stratospheric and Tropospheric Temperature Anomalies
(1979–2001)
- Global Hydrology and Climate Center
short-term data


 questions about this section  

question Does the atmosphere get colder and thinner as you go higher, until it simply turns into the vacuum of outer space?

email Email your own questions about this section.

 more sites about the atmosphere

NASA's Visible Earth/Atmosphere - A directory of images, visualizations, and animations related to the earth’s atmosphere.


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