The key difference between thermal pollution and global warming is that thermal pollution is the degradation of the quality of water due to a change in the ambient temperature of water whereas global warming is the gradual increment of atmospheric temperature due to the release of greenhouse gases.
Both thermal pollution and global warming are similar concepts that describe the harmful effects of changes in temperature on the environment.
What is Thermal Pollution?
Thermal pollution or thermal enrichment is the degradation of the quality of water due to a change in the ambient temperature of the water. The major cause of thermal pollution is the use of water as a coolant in power plants and other industrial manufactures. Water is used to take away the temperature of the desired product. When this water is returned to the natural environment, it has a high temperature, and this sudden change in the temperature of the water causes the decrement of oxygen levels in natural waterways, and it affects the composition of the ecosystem as well. Therefore, the fish and organisms in these waterways can get killed by this temperature change. This situation is known as a “thermal shock”.
Gases are less soluble in hot liquids. This is why the increase in temperature of water leads to a decrease in the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. The aquatic flora and animals get harmful effects due to this (lack of oxygen for respiratory purposes). This also causes the metabolic rate of these organisms to increase in order to consume the small amount of oxygen in the water. Furthermore, the decrease of oxygen in hot water causes less dispersion of oxygen into deep water levels.
A large increment in water temperature can cause the denaturing of proteins and enzymes in aquatic organisms by breaking down the hydrogen bonds and disulfide bonds in these proteins. This results in decreased enzymatic activity. The unstable enzymatic activity affects the breakdown of large molecules such as carbohydrates and lipids.
Thermal pollution also includes the release of cold water, though it is uncommon. It causes the reduction of river productivity when this water is released to rivers. Then native fish becomes eliminated from that ecosystem, making the system unbalanced.
What is Global Warming?
Global warming is an environmental condition where a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere occurs. Generally, global warming attributes to the greenhouse effect. The term greenhouse effect refers to the phenomenon wherein heat gets trapped within the earth’s atmosphere due to the presence of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, the emission of gases called the greenhouse gases typically happens from factories, cars, appliances, and even aerosol cans. However, some greenhouse gases like ozone are naturally occurring; others are not, and these are more difficult to get rid of.
Although there are time periods with high-temperature variations, this term specifically refers to the observed and continued increase in average air and ocean temperature. Sometimes, we use the terms global warming and climate change interchangeably, but there is a difference between them; climate change includes both global warming and its effects. Some major effects of global warming include the rising of the sea level, regional changes in precipitation, frequent extreme weather conditions, and expansion of deserts on earth.
What is the Difference Between Thermal Pollution and Global Warming?
The key difference between thermal pollution and global warming is that thermal pollution refers to the harmful effects of the release of water with a very high or very low temperature on the environment whereas global warming is the gradual increment of atmospheric temperature due to the release of greenhouse gases.
Moreover, thermal pollution happens due to the release of hot or cold water into natural waterways while global warming happens due to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Below infographic tabulates the differences between thermal pollution and global warming.
Summary – Thermal Pollution vs Global Warming
Both thermal pollution and global warming are similar concepts that describe the harmful effects on the environment due to changes in temperature. The key difference between thermal pollution and global warming is that thermal pollution refers to the degradation of the quality of water due to a change in the ambient temperature of water whereas global warming is the gradual increment of atmospheric temperature due to the release of greenhouse gases.