Several greenhouse gases are present in Earth's atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and various fluorinated gases. Each of these compounds absorbs light at its own set of frequencies, so together they manage to trap heat in the atmosphere across a broad spectrum of wavelengths.
Carbon dioxide is one of the most common greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere. It is produced by the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, as well as via some natural processes such as the decomposition of plant matter. Carbon dioxide is naturally scrubbed from the atmosphere by rain and other natural phenomena. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is also generated in the process of decomposition. Much of the methane in the atmosphere is the result of large-scale agriculture, such as the raising of cattle. Nitrous oxide is produced in ways similar to carbon dioxide and methane. Agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to its growing concentration among atmospheric gases, and its relative potency makes it the fourth leading greenhouse gas. Fluorinated gases are a distinct family of compounds that contribute to the greenhouse effect. These gases are extremely potent synthetic compounds that typically persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years because few natural processes have developed to remove them.