A brown haze indicates a combination of dust, nitrogen dioxide, and nitric oxide from car exhaust, power plants and factories.
Click on image for full size
Releasing Nitrogen Pollutants to the Air
While most of the air in our atmosphere is made of nitrogen gas, there are other gases in our atmosphere that contain nitrogen too. They may make up only a small percentage of the air molecules in our atmosphere, but their numbers are growing and, even in small amounts, they can cause huge changes in our planet.
Molecules with one nitrogen atom and one or two oxygen atoms are called nitrogen oxides. They are made in the engines of cars, in power plants, and in factories. These little molecules can cause smog if they combine with oxygen and the fumes from paint and gasoline. They can also cause acid rain if they mix with water vapor in the air. Sometimes they break apart in sunlight and the oxygen atoms latch onto oxygen molecules forming dangerous ground-level ozone.
Molecules with two nitrogen atoms and one oxygen atom are a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide. The amount of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has increased in the past 150 years. More greenhouse gases in the air cause global warming. Nitrous oxide forms in car engines, power plants and factories. It also comes from farm animals, sewage, and fertilizer. There are natural ways that nitrous oxide gets into the atmosphere too, including from tiny microbes in the soils of tropical forests.
Last modified May 9, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
, focuses on Earth System science, including articles on student inquiry, differentiated instruction, geomorphic concepts, the rock cycle, and much more!
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
Most things around us are made of groups of atoms connected together into packages called molecules. Molecules are made from atoms of one or more elements. Some molecules are made of only one type of...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
Have you ever heard of acid rain? Acid rain is what happens when some types of air pollution is washed out of the sky by rain. Sometimes, the pollution can be washed out by snow, sleet, hail, mist or fog,...more
Did you know that ozone is found in two different layers of the atmosphere? You may have heard of the ozone hole problem - that is where ozone is missing in the stratosphere (the 2nd layer of the Earth's...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
You can’t see air molecules. But if you could, you would see that most of them are made of two atoms of nitrogen bonded together. Nitrogen is not just in the sky. It is found all over the planet. It is...more