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What are Greenhouse Gases?

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Question: What are Greenhouse Gases?
Answer: Many greenhouse gases occur naturally, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Others such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) result exclusively from human industrial processes.

Human Activities and Greenhouse Gases
Human activities also add significantly to the level of naturally occurring greenhouse gases:

  • Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by the burning of solid waste, wood and wood products, and fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal).
  • Nitrous oxide emissions occur during various agricultural and industrial processes, and when solid waste or fossil fuels are burned.
  • Methane is emitted when organic waste decomposes, whether in landfills or in connection with livestock farming. Methane emissions also occur during the production and transport of fossil fuels.
The Properties of Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse gases vary in their ability to absorb and hold heat in the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as the "greenhouse effect." HFCs and PFCs are the most heat-absorbent, but there are also wide differences between naturally occurring gases. For example, nitrous oxide absorbs 270 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide, and methane absorbs 21 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide.

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