Greenhouse Effects due to Man-Made Perturbations of Trace Gases

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Science  12 Nov 1976:
Vol. 194, Issue 4266, pp. 685-690
DOI: 10.1126/science.194.4266.685


Nitrous oxide, methane, ammonia, and a number of other trace constituents in the earth's atmosphere have infrared absorption bands in the spectral region 7 to 14 µm and contribute to the atmospheric greenhouse effect. The concentrations of these trace gases may undergo substantial changes because of man's activities. Extensive use of chemical fertilizers and combustion of fossil fuels may perturb the nitrogen cycle, leading to increases in atmospheric N2O, and the same perturbing processes may increase the amounts of atmospheric CH4 and NH3. We use a one-dimensional radiative-convective model for the atmospheric thermal structure to compute the change in the surface temperature of the earth for large assumed increases in the trace gas concentrations; doubling the N2O, CH4, and NH3 concentrations is found to cause additive increases in the surface temperature of 0.7°, 0.3°, and 0.1°K, respectively. These systematic effects on the earth's radiation budget would have substantial climatic significance. It is therefore important that the abundances of these trace gases be accurately monitored to determine the actual trends of their concentrations.