Fossil fuels get into the atmosphere by human burning of them. Oil products are used to fuel automobiles and homes, coal is used to fuel power plants that produce the majority of the nations energy. When these are burned, the gases are released into the atmosphere as pollutants, causing the exacerbation of global warming.
Fossil fuels themselves do not actually get in the atmosphere. They are made of polymers called hydrocarbons, which are essentially long chains of carbon molecules strung together with hydrogen bonds. There is a ton of chemical potential energy found in fossil fuels — when you set off a reaction with one of these with heat, there is a transformation, and in the process of breaking these bonds, all that energy is released — what is given off is a GAS byproduct of the reaction — which is either CO2 or CO (and possibly others; def. H2O – water vapor)… The links below show you a step-by-step account of some types of reactions that occur which give off CO2.
In addition to to combustion for energy, fossil fuels can get into the atmosphere through leaks in various components of the network that brings fossil fuels to end users like you and me. For instance, natural gas pipelines may corrode and leak and have a natural low background rate of methane leakage into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. The complex hydrocarbons in gasoline and naptha that evaporate from oil and gas leaks and spills also act as greenhouse gases, retaining heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming as they decay and oxidize into smaller hydrocarbons and CO2 in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels may also enter the atmosphere during oil spills and gas blowouts that occur in oil and gas drilling, through release of coalbed methane in coal mining, and from natural vents of methane and other hydrocarbons.
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