This cartoon shows some of the gases in the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere. Most of the gas is nitrogen (N2
). There is also a lot of oxygen (O2
). The cartoon also shows carbon dioxide (CO2
), water vapor (H2
O), methane (CH4
), sulfur dioxide (SO2
), and carbon monoxide (CO).
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy UCAR, modified by Windows to the Universe staff (Randy Russell).
Chemicals in Earth's Atmosphere
Most of the gas in Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen. About 4/5ths of the air is nitrogen. What about the other 1/5th? Almost all of it is oxygen, the stuff in the air we need to breathe. There are also very small amounts of a bunch of other chemicals. Some of the chemicals in the air are different in the different layers of Earth's atmosphere.
Have you heard of greenhouse gases? They are kinds of gases that trap the heat from sunlight in our atmosphere. Earth would be very cold if we didn't have any greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide and methane are two very important greenhouse gases.
Some chemicals move in cycles between the atmosphere, living creatures, and the oceans. The Carbon Cycle and the Nitrogen Cycles are two important cycles that change the chemistry of the atmosphere.
Some of the chemicals in the air come from pollution. When we burn coal in a factory or gasoline in our cars, we make air pollution. Coal and oil have sulfur in them. When they burn, they make chemicals called sulfur oxides. These can turn into sulfuric acid when they mix with water droplets in the air. These droplets of acid can fall to the ground as acid rain. Cars and trucks also give off chemicals called nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen oxides combine with other chemicals to make smog. They also help make nitric acid, which is another acid in acid rain.
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
You might also be interested in:
There is more nitrogen gas in the air than any other kind of gas. About four out of five of the molecules in Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen gas! A molecule of nitrogen gas is made up of two nitrogen atoms....more
Oxygen (O2) is a kind of gas. A lot of the air you breathe is oxygen. That's a good thing, since we need oxygen to stay alive! About 4/5ths of the air in Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen (N2). Almost all...more
Only a tiny amount of the gases in Earth’s atmosphere are greenhouse gases. But they have a huge effect on climate. There are several different types of greenhouse gases, but they all have something in...more
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a kind of gas. There isn't that much carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, but it is still very important. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it helps trap heat coming...more
Methane is a kind of gas. There is a small amount of methane in the air you breathe. A methane molecule has carbon and hydrogen atoms in it. Methane is a greenhouse gas. That means it helps make Earth...more
When you think of chemistry, do you think about mixing colored liquids in test tubes and maybe making an explosion... or at least a nice puff of smoke? Did you know that a lot of chemistry happens in Earth's...more
Have you ever heard of air pollution? Air pollution is not new. 700 years ago, when people started burning large amounts of coal 700 years ago in London, England, they complained about the dust and soot...more