Steady increase in the Earth's average lower atmosphere (near surface) temperature due to heat retention caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases (including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs). These gases form a blanket around the earth that lets the incoming sun rays (short wave radiation) to pass through but blocks the reflected heat rays (long wave radiation) from going out into the space. Heat-retention is a natural phenomenon (essential to all life on earth) replicated in greenhouses where the glass roof traps radiant heat within an enclosed space. This build up of heat has drastically increased since industrial revolution in mid 19th century by fossil fuel burning. And further accelerated by CFC-emissions in the 20th century, leading to global warming (the year 1998, for example, was the warmest year in the recorded history). Each CFC molecule (which causes ozone-depletion also) is estimated to have 10,000 times more heat reflecting effect than a molecule of carbon dioxide. The greenhouse effect was first studied in 1896 by the Swedish Nobel-laureate (1903) chemist Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) who called it hothouse effect. But its mathematical bases preceded its discovery and were published in 1824 by the French mathematician Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier (1768-1830).
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