Anti-greenhouse effect

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The anti-greenhouse effect is a term used to refer to two different effects that describe a cooling effect an atmosphere has on the ambient temperature of a planet. Unlike the greenhouse effect, which is common, an anti-greenhouse effect is only known to exist in one situation in the Solar System. The conventional greenhouse effect occurs because an atmosphere is largely transparent to optical solar radiation, but largely opaque to outgoing infrared radiation. In an anti-greenhouse effect, an atmosphere is opaque to solar, but releases infrared.


The "haze" on Titan

The haze containing organic molecules in Titan's upper atmosphere absorbs 90% of the solar radiation reaching Titan, but is inefficient at trapping infrared radiation generated by the surface. Although a large greenhouse effect does keep Titan at a much higher temperature than the thermal equilibrium,[1] according to McKay et al., "the anti-greenhouse effect on Titan reduces the surface temperature by 9 K whereas the greenhouse effect increases it by 21 K. The net effect is that the surface temperature (94 K) is 12 K warmer than the effective temperature 82 K. [i.e., the equilibrium that would be reached in the absence of any atmosphere]"[1]

In addition, this effect results in a permanent meteorological inversion of the thermocline on Titan with atmospheric temperatures increasing with increasing altitude above the tropopause.[2] This type of anti-greenhouse effect is only known to occur on Titan, but it is similar to the cooling effects suggested for nuclear winter.[3][4]


A different mechanism exists on Pluto, which is not a true anti-greenhouse effect. Sunlight striking the nitrogen ice on the surface of dwarf planet Pluto causes it to sublimate; this causes the temperature of Pluto to be about 10 °C (20 °F) lower than that of its moon Charon.[5] The sublimation causes cooling, and is similar to solar radiation directly evaporating ice on Earth, and the reverse of frost forming; however when this occurs on Earth it is not called an anti-greenhouse effect. This effect was discovered using the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii.


  1. ^ a b C.P. McKay; J.B. Pollack & R. Courtin (6 September 1991). "Titan: Greenhouse and Anti-greenhouse Effects on Titan". Science. 253 (5024): 1118–21. doi:10.1126/science.11538492. PMID 11538492. 
    See also McKay, ""Titan: Greenhouse and Anti-greenhouse," Astrobiology Magazine November 03, 2005 (retrieved October 3, 2008)
  2. ^ Temperature Lapse Rate and Methane in Titan’s Troposphere
  3. ^ "A Nuclear Winter's Tale By Lawrence Badas" pg 184
  4. ^ William R. Cotton, Roger A. Pielke, Sr Cambridge University Press, 2007, pg 216
  5. ^ - Pluto Colder Than Expected