Shop Windows to the Universe

The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.

Click on image for full size
Images courtesy COMET.

Atmospheric Chemistry

Chemistry plays an influential role in the behavior of Earth's atmosphere. The various gases in the atmosphere are constantly mixing with and reacting with each other. Gases released by the oceans, emitted by plants, animals, and microbes, and poured into the atmosphere by human activities continually alter the balance of atmospheric chemistry.

The activities of humans play an increasingly important role in atmospheric chemistry. Fossil fuel burning generates sulfur oxides, which create sulfuric acid - a component of acid rain. Exhaust gases from cars and trucks produce nitrogen oxides, which contribute to the formation of smog and of nitric acid - another component of acid rain.

Nature also does its share to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere. Volcanic eruptions, wildfires, lightning, and UV radiation from the Sun all add materials to the atmosphere or chemically alter those already there. The oceans and the biosphere exchange vast quantities of gases with the atmosphere. The Carbon and Nitrogen Cycles play key roles in these processes.

Last modified July 13, 2009 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Chemical Composition of Earth's Atmosphere

Earth's atmosphere consists of about 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, and a mixture of small amounts of numerous other ingredients. Some of the minor constituents do, however, have big impacts. For example, greenhouse...more

Air Pollution Sources

Air pollution comes from many different sources. Natural processes that affect air quality include volcanic activity, which produce sulfur, chlorine, and ash particulates, and wildfires, which produce...more

Sulfuric Acid - H2SO4

Sulfuric acid is a viscous, oily liquid and a strong acid which can cause severe burns. Sulfuric acid consists of sulfur, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms. Sulfuric acid is one of the components of acid rain....more

Acid Rain

Acid rain is a general term used to describe different kinds of acidic air pollution. Although some acidic air pollutants return directly back to Earth, a lot of it returns in rain, snow, sleet, hail,...more

Photochemical Smog

Smog is a type of air pollution. Smog is a mixture of smoke and fog, hence the name (SMoke + fOG = SMOG). Victorian-era London was famous for its thick smogs, which resulted from the city's frequent, naturally...more

Nitric Acid - HNO3

Nitric acid is a colorless, corrosive liquid and a toxic acid which can cause severe burns. Nitric acid consists of nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms. Nitric acid, in its gas phase, is present in very...more

Photodissociation

Sometimes when a photon hits a molecule, the energy from the photon causes the molecule to break apart. Scientists use the term "photodissociation" for such events. Photodissociation plays a very important...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF