Scientists measure how plants change the amounts of gases in the air. Changes in amount of greenhouse gases can change the amount of greenhouse effect and global warming.
Photo by Lee Klinger, UCAR Digital Image Library

Living Things Affect Climate

There are many different ways that the plants, animals and other life on our planet, affect climate. Some produce greenhouses gases that trap heat and aid global warming through the greenhouse effect, while others reduce the amount of greenhouse gases. Here are some examples:

  • Plants: The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is taken out of the atmosphere by plants as they make their food by photosynthesis. During the night, plants release some carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They take much more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than they put in.
  • Farm animals: The greenhouse gas methane is made as farm animals, such as cattle and sheep, digest their food.
  • Wetlands and rice patties: Microbes in natural wetlands and rice paddies produce methane gas.
  • Factories and power plants: carbon dioxide gas is releasing into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned to make the power needed for most factories and power plants.
  • Cars and trucks: Carbon dioxide gas is released when fossil fuels are burned to power cars and trucks.
  • Fertilizers: The greenhouse gas nitrous oxide is produced when human-produced fertilizers breakdown in the soil.
  • Wildfires: Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as wildfires burn. However, if a forest of similar size grows again, about the same amount of carbon that was added to the atmosphere during the fire will be removed. So, fires affect greenhouse gases in the short term, but not on long timescales.

Did you notice that humans control many of the examples listed above? Today, far more greenhouse gases are currently put into the atmosphere than taken out. This contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Last modified June 4, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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