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The Earth has a natural temperature control system. Certain atmospheric gases are critical to this system and are known as greenhouse gases. On average, about one third of the solar radiation that hits the earth is reflected back to space. Of the remainder, some is absorbed by the atmosphere but most is absorbed by the land and oceans. The Earth's surface becomes warm and as a result emits infrared radiation. The greenhouse gases trap the infrared radiation, thus warming the atmosphere. Naturally occurring greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane and nitrous oxide, and together create a natural greenhouse effect. However, human activities are causing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere to increase. Note: Greenhouse gases are mixed throughout in the atmosphere. For pedagogical reasons they are depicted here as a layer.

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