Nitrous Oxide as a Greenhouse Gas

by Coralis,

The greenhouse effect is known as the natural phenomenon that takes place on earth, which is responsible for the temperature of our sea planet the most optimal for life. This effect is very similar to the effect of a common greenhouse used for plant cultivation, but with the difference of being at the planetary level.

Atmospheric gases with their specific types, known as “greenhouse gases”, have the task of retaining much of that energy inside our planet, without letting it escape into outer space.

This radiation that cannot escape from the inside of our planet is what causes the surface temperature to rise. Greenhouse gases are responsible for retaining approximately 62.5% of the radiation within the planet.

If the greenhouse effect did not exist, the surface temperature of the earth would be about -18º C, which would make life impossible. This process, when it works naturally, maintains a balance of temperatures on the earth’s surface of about 14ºC, making possible the development of life.

If the concentration of greenhouse gases increases in the atmosphere, it would cause the amount of energy that cannot escape into outer space to increase and increase, causing it to be reflected the surface by gradually increasing its temperature.

nitrous oxide greenhouse gas - sources in our environment

Greenhouse Gases & Climate Change

The greenhouse effect is the main cause of climate change, being a phenomenon that has acted naturally throughout history. However, it has suffered a great acceleration due to the increase in greenhouse gases.

The greenhouse gases are those that contribute to the increase of the greenhouse effect because they are capable of absorbing the energy transmitted by long-wave radiation sent by the Sun and received by the atmosphere.

There is a large number of gases that fit the above characteristics and, therefore, contribute to global warming. However, the only nitrogen oxide that acts as a greenhouse gas is nitrous oxide.

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a volatile gas characterized by being colorless, with a sweet and slightly toxic smell. The molecular structure of nitrous oxide (N2O) is formed by the union of two molecules of nitrogen and one of oxygen (N2O). This is a stable gas which does not affect other compounds or elements.

Nitrous oxide is created by controlled thermolysis of ammonia nitrate, according to the NH4NO3 -> 2 H2O + N2O reaction or by the reaction of ammonia (NH 3) with nitric acid (HNO3).

Sources of Nitrous Oxide Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The most important source of nitrous oxide is the emissions generated by agricultural soils and to a lesser extent by the consumption of fossil fuels to generate energy and those emitted by the decomposition of domestic wastewater proteins. The agriculture intensive agriculture has caused sterility in the soils, so that in these the natural nitrogen for the plants is no longer available, thus causing the use of large amounts of chemical fertilizers to guarantee the productivity of the crops, which They stimulate microbes in the soil by converting nitrogen into nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide greenhouse gas is mainly produced through the massive use of nitrogen fertilizers in intensive agriculture.

Among the most relevant emission sources of nitrous oxide greenhouse gas we can mention:

  • Burning fossil fuels
  • Thermal power plants
  • Car exhaust pipes
  • Deforestation
  • Nylon manufacturing

All these emission sources release nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. However, other sources are found in biological processes in oceans and soils, in addition to volcanic emissions and stormy phenomena.

Why is Nitrous Oxide a Greenhouse Gas?

Nitrous oxide is considered a greenhouse gas because of its incredible ability to conserve heat. According to studies conducted by scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), they determined that nitrous oxide is 300 times more effective than carbon dioxide. Each molecule of nitrous oxide contains 230 times more environmental impact than one of carbon dioxide. Thus contributing 6% to the greenhouse effect.

The residence time of nitrous oxide on the earth’s surface is 150 to 120 years.

Also, its concentration has increased with a total of 17% since 1750, which continues to increase, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Effects of Nitrous Oxide Pollution on Human Health

The mechanism of action of nitrous oxide is to use the airways to reach the brain and decrease the usual activity of neurons. Also, depending on its exposure and concentration, it can generate excitement, depression of the respiratory system (it can cause a state of coma and death if there is no artificial support), surgical anesthesia (which occurs due to loss of consciousness) or analgesia.

The only route of entry into the body of nitrous oxide is pulmonary, which usually inhales a mixture of 35% nitrous oxide and 65% oxygen, inhalation of this gas by 100% can cause asphyxiation and often of death.

nitrous oxide as a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change

Effects of Nitrous Oxide Pollution on The Environment

Regarding the environment, it should be noted that nitrous oxide is a very important gas that attributes 6% of the greenhouse effect. This gas also contributes significantly to the destruction of the ozone layer, which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the Sun

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