Rights: Copyright:The Royal Society, TVNZ 7 in partnership with the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. Published 23 October 2015 Download

This is a simple explanation of what greenhouse gases are and how they function.


What are greenhouse gases?

A mix of gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

They’re called ‘greenhouse gases’ because they act a bit like glass in a greenhouse – letting in heat from the sun but stopping some of it from escaping back into space. They make the Earth livable – without them, the temperature would be well below freezing.

Most of these gases occur naturally. But some, like carbon dioxide, increase when we burn fossil fuels.

A thicker blanket of greenhouse gases is very likely to increase the surface temperature of the Earth because less heat escapes – and this has led to concerns about global warming.

Over the last century, the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by about .8 degrees Celsius - many believe this is because there are more greenhouse gases insulating our atmosphere.

And that’s what greenhouse gases are.