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Confirmed: Man-made CO2 causes greenhouse effect

The climate change debate is reaching reasonable levels, albeit slowly. Now, rather than doubting climate change outright, many wonder whether or not the effects are caused by humans. Though calculations and models predicted this to be the case, now it’s official: For the first time, scientists from Berkeley Lab have observed and measured the greenhouse effect from Earth’s surface.

The cause? CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. Which, unless animals have learned to use oil as a heat source, means it’s largely due to human input.

The greenhouse effect is dangerous for one primary reason: Heat. As energy from the Sun reaches Earth, some of it is absorbed. Much of it, though, should be emitted back out into space. When atmospheric levels of CO2 get too high, those gasses effectively trap heat on Earth, hence the name and the ensuing climate change.

“We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb what the Earth emits in response to incoming solar radiation,” says Daniel Feldman, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division. “Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect,” Feldman adds.

Using precise instrumentation from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility, Feldman and his colleagues were able to measure thermal infrared energy traveling from the atmosphere to Earth’s surface. Along with other instruments at each of the two locations that measured other infrared-emitting phenomena, the researchers were able to isolate the unique infrared signal associated with CO2.

In both locations, based on data from 2000 to 2010, they reached the same conclusion: Infrared energy emitted by CO2 gas is on the rise, at a rate of about 0.2 watts per square meter per decade. Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s CarbonTracker system, they were able to deduce that the rise in CO2 emissions were directly linked to the burning of fossil fuels.

The good news? Also for the first time, the researchers were able to see the effects of photosynthesis on greenhouse gasses from the surface: Come springtime, CO2-attributed radiation dips as flourishing plants draw more of the gas out of the air.