The Influence of the Combustion of Fossil Fuels on the Climate

  • Gilbert N. Plass


The average temperature of the surface of the earth depends critically on the presence of three relatively rare gases in our atmosphere: carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ozone. The most numerous molecules in our atmosphere, oxygen, nitrogen, and argon, have almost no direct influence on the climate. They have negligible absorption of electromagnetic radiation at visible and infrared frequencies. Carbon dioxide (0.032% by volume), water vapor (variable, usually less than 2% by volume), and ozone (variable, usually less than 10−7ppm) have strong absorption bands, particularly at certain wavelengths in the infrared, and in the case of ozone also in the ultraviolet. Thus, these relatively rare atmospheric molecules determine how much solar energy reaches the earth’s surface and how much infrared radiation is radiated back to space. The proportion of all three of these gases in the atmosphere varies with time. A sufficiently large change in the concentration of any one of these gases changes the temperature of the earth’s surface. An increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide, for example, increases the temperature of the earth’s surface.


Carbon Dioxide Carbon Dioxide Concentration Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Cloud Amount Carbon Dioxide Content 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gilbert N. Plass
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhysicsTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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