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Ever Wonder What is in the Air We Breathe?

Updated on February 18, 2014
Water and air as a necessity of life.
Water and air as a necessity of life.
Atmosphere, Weather and Climate
Atmosphere, Weather and Climate

This is for those of you who would like to know more and need to have the most up to date information.

 
Atmosphere, Weather and Climate
Atmosphere, Weather and Climate

This is for those of you who would like to know more and are okay with an earlier edition which has most of the same information as the more recent ninth edition.

 

Take a deep breath and let it out. Now, I am sure you are wondering what it is that you are breathing in. The air we breathe is essential to life; however, the composition of that air is not the same every where. Pollutants are more prevalent near larger cities; dust is more common in deserts; water vapor, in the form of humidity in some areas, is more present in coastal areas; and, yet, the elements in air remain similar throughout the world. Most people take for granted that the air they are breathing is the same as the air someone else is breathing miles away. This is not necessarily true. There are many factors that determine the composition of the atmosphere.

Earth's Atmosphere

Earth's Atmosphere is made of four layers: the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere, pictured below. This hub will only cover some atmospheric facts on the troposphere because it is closest to the Earth and, therefore, it is the atmospheric layer that people, plants, and animals live in.

Earth's atmospheric layers
Earth's atmospheric layers
View of a city from a mountain top.
View of a city from a mountain top.

Elements of Air

The air we, as people, breathe is composed mostly of oxygen, nitrogen gas, and argon. These 3 elements account for 99.9% of the elements in air. These 3 elements make life on Earth possible and, furthermore, make it possible for people to breathe. In addition, ozone near the surface of the Earth, in the troposphere, is bad for air quality but does exist in relatively large quantities in certain areas around the globe because it does not mix well with elements in the troposphere.

A windy day in the desert.
A windy day in the desert.

Tiny Particles in Air

Aerosols are commonly found in the air and it is no surprise that they are more abundant near factories, cities, and windy places. Smog and other tiny particles like carbon dioxide are more prevalent in urban areas. The Earth also has natural aerosols, such as volcanic ash, smoke, organic matter, sea salt spray, and wind blown dust. Different aerosols have various effects on Earth's atmosphere. For example, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were once used in most products stored in aerosol cans, like hairspray and freon in car air conditioning systems, but it was found that they react with the ozone in the stratosphere and decrease the planet's ability to deflect harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Basically, a planet without ozone is like a person out in the sun all day without sunscreen. Ouch! Carbon dioxide, another harmful aerosol, is responsible for the controversial global warming theory. Aerosols play big roles in the way the Earth system works because they mostly cool the Earth's temperature but also cause pollution and other harmful side effects. If they are not controlled, they may cause unknown effects on the planet and planets and animals, including humans.

Water in a lake as a liquid.
Water in a lake as a liquid.

Water Vapor in Air

Water is one of the most important compounds, if not the most important compound found on Earth. It is essential for life not only in its liquid form but also in its gaseous and sold form as well. Above it was mentioned that oxygen, nitrogen gas, and argon make up 99.9% of the atmosphere. This is variable throughout the Earth. Some places may have more oxygen or less oxygen and the same is true with nitrogen gas and argon. For this reason, water in the form of gas makes up anywhere from 0%-4% of the Earth's atmospheric composition. This is why places like the desert have no humidity and places like Florida and other tropical regions have more humidity.

A power plant in an otherwise serene setting.
A power plant in an otherwise serene setting.

The next time you take a breath in a town, a city, an airport, a car, a field, or any other place you may find yourself you will know that it is different from the air you were breathing at home or in the office. It is important to know the elements and compounds in air because the health of people, plants, and animals depends on the air we all breathe. People breathe harmful toxins in daily because they do not know they are in the air. These toxins cause a wide variety of health problems, including cancer. Paying more attention to the harmful things put in the air could save the planet, or in the very least yourself.

Atmosphere, Weather and Climate
Atmosphere, Weather and Climate

This is the most recent edition of this book and it holds many answers to more in depth questions.

 
Atmosphere, Weather and Climate
Atmosphere, Weather and Climate

Again, this is the older edition that has most of the same information as the new ninth edition.

 
A Field Guide to the Atmosphere (Peterson Field Guide)
A Field Guide to the Atmosphere (Peterson Field Guide)

A far more simplified version of the two preceeding textbooks that explains a little more about the atmosphere than I have written.

 

© 2012 morningstar18

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