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Reader Opinion: Greenhouse gases

The author of the April 7 letter, "Wrong facts on climate," objects to my using the term "heat carrying capacity" in my March 31 letter. He says: "It turns out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases don't heat the planet because they have a la...

The author of the April 7 letter, "Wrong facts on climate," objects to my using the term "heat carrying capacity" in my March 31 letter. He says: "It turns out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases don't heat the planet because they have a large 'heat carrying capacity.' Rather, they heat the planet because they selectively transmit short-wavelength sunlight yet block long-wavelength infrared emission."

Should I have said heat "absorption" capacity? Does it matter? A typical definition of "greenhouse effect" is that the sun's light warms the surface of the earth which then emits heat in the form of infrared thermal radiation. Infrared radiation is then "absorbed" by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which in turn re-radiate infrared in all directions, some of which goes back to earth.

When I said: "Picture all the gases in the atmosphere as a hundred-story building; the carbon dioxide gas made by man amounts to the thickness of the linoleum on the first floor," it was to show how miniscule man's CO2 contribution really is to the problem. This is somewhat similar to what geo-engineering scientists said at the February AAAS conference in San Jose: "We may have to look at ways of blocking the sun's rays to cool the planet." And that: "... even if we completely stopped carbon dioxide emissions today, the earth will continue warming over the next several decades." They suggested sending particles up into the atmosphere to do the blocking. We know for fact this process works - witness Mother Nature's own emissions, i.e. Mt. Tambora in 1815, which blasted so much particulate matter into the atmosphere that it caused the disastrous 'year without summer" in the northern hemisphere in 1816. Scientists are just looking at ways of doing this in a controlled manner for regional applications.

Phil Drietz

Delhi

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