Recent increases in anthropogenic emissions of trace gases (for example, carbon dioxide, methane, and chloroflourocarbons) have resulted in concern over the so-called greenhouse effect. These trace gases allow energy in the form of sunlight to reach the earth's surface, but "trap" or absorb the infrared energy (heat) that is emitted by the earth. The heat absorbed by the atmosphere is partially re-radiated back to the earth's surface, resulting in warming. Trends in the concentrations of these greenhouse gases have been used in climate models (computer simulations) to predict that the global average surface temperature of the earth will warm by 3.6–10.8°F (2–6°C) within the next century. For comparison, the difference in average surface temperature between the Ice Age 18,000 years ago and present day is about 9°F (5°C).
Greenhouse warming due to anthropogenic activity is predicted to have other associated consequences, including rising sea level and changes in cloud cover and precipitation patterns around the world. For example, a reduction in summertime precipitation in the Great Plains states is predicted by many models and could adversely affect crop production. Other regions may actually receive higher amounts of precipitation than they do currently. The level of uncertainty in these model simulations is fairly high, however, due to approximations that are made. This is especially true of calculations related to aerosol particles and clouds. Also, the natural variability of the atmosphere makes verification of any current or future trends extremely difficult unless actual changes are quite large.
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