What are Greenhouse Gases? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Greenhouse gases are gases in Earth's atmosphere that trap heat, and without them, the Earth would be too cold to support life. But what if there are too many greenhouse gases? This lesson will explore these gases and the greenhouse effect.

What Are Greenhouse Gases?

People who love to garden sometimes use greenhouses during the winter. A greenhouse is a small, warm glass building that people use to grow fruits and flowers even when the weather is too cold for plants to survive.

How does it work? When rays of sunlight pass through the glass walls and ceiling of the greenhouse, some of the sun's energy gets absorbed by the plants and soil. This causes the temperature to rise. The glass of the greenhouse prevents much of the heat from leaving, which keeps the greenhouse warm.

Our planet works somewhat like a greenhouse, except Earth doesn't have a glass ceiling. Instead, it has layers of gases that trap heat. These gases in the Earth's atmosphere that trap heat are called greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases are needed to make Earth livable. Without them, our planet would be too cold for us to survive. Greenhouse gases that are found in our atmosphere include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, fluorinated gases and water vapor.

Greenhouse gases found in our atmosphere
Greenhouse Gases

What Is The Greenhouse Effect?

The greenhouse effect is the term scientists use to describe the way that greenhouse gases trap the sun's energy. As the sun's rays enter Earth's atmosphere, they pass through a layer of greenhouse gases. Plants, animals and structures on Earth's surface absorb most of the sun's rays, and the rest of the rays are reflected back toward space.

As the reflected rays head back toward space, they run into the layer of greenhouse gases. Some of the heat passes through the layer of gases, while the rest bounces back down to Earth. The heat that's trapped by the greenhouse gases helps to keep Earth warm.

A diagram of the greenhouse effect
Greenhouse effect

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