Assignment 3: The Sky Window is Closing Final Draft

The greenhouse effect gets a great deal of negative press as it is one of the contributing factors to global warming.  What few people realize is that the greenhouse effect is precisely the reason we have an inhabitable planet.  If it weren’t for the greenhouse effect, our planet would be far to cold to live on because none of the radiation from the sun would be retained by the Earth.  The problem of global warming arises when more radiation is retained by the earth than is radiated back out into space.  This imbalance in the amount of solar radiation we are retaining is the cause for the rise in our average global temperature.  What exactly causes heat to be radiated back into space?  The answer is the sky window.

The sky window can be thought of as a valve that, when turned, can release heat back into outer space.  As opposed to a conventional valve that releases a liquid or a gas, the sky window releases energy.  This energy is released over a very specific set of wavelengths.  The range of wavelengths that can be radiated back into space are what keeps the Earth cool enough to live and maintain life on.  Any wavelength that is less than the minimum or greater than the maximum will not escape out of the sky window and will be retained by the atmosphere thus causing the Earth to remain warm.

In order to find these wavelengths we look at the simple equation:

\[\lambda = \frac {C}{F} \]

Where lambda is the wavelength, C is the speed of light and F is the frequency of the wave.

The sky window is estimated to be between eight and fourteen micrometers wide.  To put this length into perspective, the width of a human hair ranges anywhere from 17-181 micrometers.  So what exactly can cause the window to narrow?  The answer is simple.  Man made pollution places greenhouse gases (GHG’s) into the atmosphere which aid in blocking this light being radiated back into space.  Think of GHG’s as tiny curtains that would be hung up in front of the window in a classroom.  As more GHG’s (curtains) are placed into the atmosphere (the window) less light is allowed through the window.  As more GHG’s are being put into the atmosphere there is a further narrower window or range of wavelengths of light that can be radiated back into space.

This can further be explained with the use of this chart that shows the certain wavelengths that certain GHG’s can absorb:



Space seems to be infinite though right?  So why should it matter if only a little bit of seemingly clear pollution gets in the way?  Let’s look at the numbers.  Let’s say that the sky window narrows by only ten percent.  A small percentage of a seemingly smaller window doesn’t sound like a lot, right?  In fact it’s only a reduction of about 0.6 micrometers.  But when you think of it as a ten percent reduction in ALL light being radiated back into space you can see just how big of a deal this truly is.

Obviously the average person would never think a window that a few micrometers wide could have a big impact on their lives.  They will however notice the overwhelming environmental impacts that will begin to occur if this narrow window becomes any more narrow.  Extreme weather and sea level rising will just be the tip of the ice burg (no pun intended) if the sky window continues to close.

Works Cited:

1.) “Air Pollution and Climate Change.” Windows to the Universe. Windows to the Universe, 2008. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.
2.) Brownson, Jeffery. “Solar Energy Conversion Systems.” SECS. Penn State University, 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.
3.) “Help Save The Climate – Climate Theory and Global Warming.” Help Save The Climate – Climate Theory and Global Warming. Climate Theory, 2016. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.


This entry was posted in Student Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply