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Greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming, which is actually a natural process. However, humans produce so much additional greenhouse gases that the earth gets warmer than it would naturally. The consequences are environmental catastrophes and extinction of species. Let’s take a closer look at the main human-made greenhouse gases:
PFC, NF₃, SF₆
Our air consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen. The trace gases together, which also contain the gases focused on this website, make up only about 0.1% of our air!
The gases also do not contribute to the greenhouse effect to the same extent.
But how can we compare their impact?
The various gases do not contribute to the greenhouse effect to the same extent and remain in the atmosphere for different periods of time. In order to make the effects of the various greenhouse gases on the climate comparable, the IPCC has defined the so-called Global Warming Potential. This index expresses the warming effect of a certain amount of a greenhouse gas (in parts per million = ppm) over 100 years compared to that of CO₂. So, to masure the climate impact, the gases are converted into CO₂ equivalents (CO₂eq).
One Example: Methane has 28 times more climate impact than Carbon Dioxide.
Although F-Gases have an enormously higher global warming potential than the other gases, it must be borne in mind that their share is lowest in the atmosphere. CO₂ has such a high proportion that, in total, it still has the biggest impact on the human-made climate effect.
CO₂ has the biggest share and is measured in parts per million (ppm), as well as Methane is still measured in ppm and Nitrous Oxide in parts per billion (ppb). F-Gases have the smallest share. That is the reason why it is measured in particles per trillion (ppt) which means they make up more than 1,000,000 times less in comparison to CO₂.
As a result, CO₂ causes worldwide about 80% of the human-made climate effect. Therefore the most important levers are reduction of CO₂, followed by CH₄ and N₂O, well ahead of F-Gases.
Carbon Dioxide is largely produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, for example for power generation, in industry, domestic heating systems and in mobility. In addition, as a result of deforestation, CO₂ is released by the decomposition of biomass during the burning of mainly tropical forests.
Methane is always produced when organic material is decomposed in the absence of oxygen. This occurs mainly in the stomachs of ruminants (cows and sheep), in wet rice cultivation and in landfills.
Nitrous Oxide is produced in the soil during the decomposition of mineral nitrogen fertilizers. It is the most important greenhouse gas released by agriculture worldwide. The use of land and fertilizers leads to a significant release of CO₂ and Nitrous Oxide.
F-Gases are mainly used as propellants and refrigerants. They contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer. The fluorocarbons (HFCs), used as substitutes, do not damage the ozone layer – but they are also greenhouse gases.
Not only the CO₂ equivalents and the dwell time differs between the four different gases. There are also other characteristics that are unlike from one another.
Carbon Dioxide is a odourless gas. This is because it is at such a low concentration that we are accustomed to it. But if you want to increase the amount of CO₂ available in the air, you would notice a sharp acidic smell and taste. CO₂ is also colourless gas, but pure it is heavier than air so if you had a leak from a CO₂ gas bottle, the gas would rest at floor level if it is undisturbed. It is well soluble in water and a natural component of air, as well as a natural by-product of the cellular respiration of many living creatures. During eruptions of volcanoes, a lot of CO₂ is released.
Methane is a colourless, odourless and combistible gas. It is insoluble in water and forms explosive mixtures with air. One assumes, that it was the main component of the earthly primeval atmosphere. CH₄ is mostly naturally produced when organic matter rots in the absence of air in swamps or in sediment at the bottom of water bodies.
Nitrous Oxide, also known as Laughing Gas, is odourless, colourless and tasteless, although it is sometimes described as slightly sweet tasting. With a density of 1.97 kg/m³, Nitrous Oxide is 1.5 times heavier than air, which means that it is not distributed homogeneously in a room, but tends to fall to the ground. N₂O is not combustible, but can oxidise other substances. It therefore has a fire-promoting effect. Nitrous Oxide is highly soluble in cold water. Under increased pressure, laughing gas shows very good solubility in fats.
The term "F-gases" stands for fluorinated greenhouse gases and is a collective term for partly fluorinated hydrocarbons (HFC), perfluorinated hydrocarbon (PFC), sulphur hexafluoride (SF₆) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF₃). They are used in technical settings because of their generally low toxicity and flammability.
We're struggling with environmental catastrophes as well as extinction of species and human-made greenhouse gas emissions are almost entirely the reason. To solve this problem, we should first understand the cause. On this webpage we display the most important facts about the gases.
According to the IPCC, it is now important to rapidly reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases and to bring them down to zero worldwide until 2050 at the latest in order to restrict global warming to the 2 °C limit. This limit is a political setting based on scientific evidence about the likely consequences of global warming. To stop global warming, we must now switch to renewable energies as quickly as possible and neutralise residual emissions from agriculture, heavy industry, aviation and shipping in the long term.
To get more insights about connected topics, you can follow the links below:
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Stefanie Semm, Carolin Achtermann
myclimate.org: Was sind Treibhausgase?
Umweltbundesamt: Die Treibhausgase, 2020
GEOlino: Unser Klima, Wie Kohlendioxid unser Klima verändert, 2016
World Resources Institute: Greenhouse gas emissions by country sector, 2020
Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit (BMU):
Emissionen fluorierter Treibhausgase
sustainability.energy: Effects of Fossil Fuels on the Environment
United States Environmental Protection Agency: Overview of Greenhouse Gases
Scientists for Future: Stellungnahme
If you have any questions or suggestions,
we would be happy to hear from you.