On Measuring the Greenhouse Effect of Earth

  • Graeme L. Stephens
  • Anthony Slingo
  • Mark Webb
Conference paper
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (volume 9)


A balance between the amount of sunlight absorbed by the planet and the thermal radiation emitted to space is the primary control of the Earth’s climate. Almost 70% of the solar energy reaching the earth is absorbed by the planet (e.g., Vonder Haar and Suomi, 1971), mainly at the surface. This warms the surface which then emits radiation towards space at longer infrared wavelengths. Radiatively active gases, such as water vapour and carbon dioxide, together with cloud particles, absorb radiation emitted from the surface. These constituents also re-emit infrared radiation but at temperatures which are lower than the surface temperature. This absorption and re-emission provides an effective mechanism for ‘blocking’ the surface emission from escaping to space and helps to maintain higher temperatures than would otherwise occur in the absence of the atmosphere. We call this the greenhouse effect (GE) of the atmosphere based on an analogy with the operation of an actual greenhouse, although this analogy is itself contentious (Bohren, 1987).


Optical Depth Brightness Temperature Outgoing Longwave Radiation Greenhouse Effect Precipitable Water 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graeme L. Stephens
    • 1
  • Anthony Slingo
    • 2
  • Mark Webb
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Atmospheric ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Met. OfficeHadley Centre for Climate Prediction and ResearchBracknellUK

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