Earth’s runaway heating easy to trigger than earlier believed

A study headed by Colin Goldblatt from the University of Victoria, Canada has found that it may be possible for a planet to experience a runaway greenhouse effect even if it does not receive a higher amount of solar radiation that is considered necessary to trigger the event.

What is Runaway Greenhouse Effect and how it can impact Earth?

A runaway greenhouse effect is the uncontrolled heating up of a planet’s surface resulting in the rapid evaporation of its water bodies such as oceans, which get converted to steam and make the planet inhospitable.

What can cause Runaway Greenhouse Effect?

Runaway Greenhouse Effect is caused when the solar radiation absorbed by the planet exceeds the thermal radiation released by it. In ideal conditions, such as in the case of Earth, the absorption and radiation levels are balanced resulting in a temperate climate.

What did the Goldblatt’s study on Runaway Greenhouse Effect find?

Dr. Goldblatt’s study has found that a runaway greenhouse effect can be triggered, under specific conditions, even on a planet like Earth receiving normal levels of solar radiation.

As per this study, for any given planet (like Earth) there is a fixed upper limit of thermal radiation that helps balance the amount of solar radiation absorbed. The study, conducted using specific computer modeling techniques which have analyzed runaway greenhouse effects at different temperatures, has found that the threshold level for thermal radiation is lower than previously thought. Likewise, the solar radiation levels have been found to be higher than previous estimates. This lower level of thermal radiation can help cause a runaway greenhouse effect easily on Earth than believed earlier.

The study compares the findings with planets such as Venus and says that Venus might have experienced a runaway greenhouse effect in the past and that “Earth’s future is analogous to Venus’s past”. But, it may happen only after a million years or more. It further adds that such an effect is unlikely to happen due to human-induced factors.



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