Why is The Earth’s Atmosphere so Stable?
One of the mystery and unanswered question is why our home planet is so stable and possesses an atmosphere that is necessary for life. From ice cores, we know that it has not always been so. In the early parts of our planet, some 2 billion years ago, the percent of oxygen was only 10%. Something happened that changed this mix for our advantage. Once it reached the current mix, for some unexplained reason, it stopped. Why is that? I will present a plausible theory that is unproven.
- Oct. 2019
I am an engineer by training. I like to find answers. How does our planet support life is one of my great interest. It seems to me, despite the great changes in our environment over the past few thousand years, some of which is human contributed, yet our atmosphere’s composition is relatively stable. Why?
There are a few theories. Some have stated that it is the size. The earth is so large, that anything we humans do is so minute, that it barely makes a dent. However, we do know from our studies in archeology and environmental science, that the earth was quite different in the distant past. Something must have changed that is of significant nature to create the current environment. What is that mechanism?
As an engineer, I know that systems have a steady state, and can be induced to a change due to external forces and then it can either revert back to a stable state or it can oscillate and it is also possible to go out of control with a runaway.
Obviously, our earth as far as the atmosphere goes, is currently operating at a steady state. In order to maintain this, there must be some feedback loops to keep things in check. What are the stimulus?
The sun is a big component. It supplies our planet with energy. We also know the sun has an 11 year cycle. These sunspots are related to some energy transfers that occurs within the sun’s nuclear fusion generator.
Another possible stimulus is the earth itself. We are an active planet with a heated core. It can create massive earthquakes periodically which can explode and affect the global atmosphere.
Another source is asteroids. We are constantly bombarded with these stray entities some of which are massive in size. It can even lead to the extinction of species.
The last possible stimulus is man made. We have developed the technology of nuclear power. Some of our weapons has the potential capability to change our planet . Our use of fossil fuel is also a potential source of changing the current ecological balance.
Sun Spot Cycles
What Is Keeping the Stablility?
As an engineer, I know there is some underlying mechanism that is governing our planet. The earth is not just a greenhouse as some climate scientists want you to believe. It is a complex ecosystem that includes the ocean, the air, the land mass, the ice covered poles and all living things plants and animals. The sun and moon along with gravity and the planetary motions all fit together to produce the current “balance” in our eco system.
The exact mechanism is not known to me. However, there must be one that keeps our planet relatively stable in order for life to exist. It is up to future scientists to discover.
The fact that our atmosphere is so stable over thousands of years is a good indicator. Despite of all the human activities of the past 3000 years and the major natural events, like earthquakes and asteroids, it is still pretty stable.
The atmosphere is composed of 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen and 0.04% CO2, along with water vapor. Just like the tilt of the earth’s axis is stuck at 23.5 degrees.
The salinity of our oceans is also very stable at 35g per 1000g of water. Why?
If the earth is only a greenhouse, then it would be hard to maintain such stability.
One theory is that it is all by chance, an accident. Another theory is that the will to survive is so great, evolution takes us to where we need to be in order to survive and thrive. A final theory is that it was designed and created with specific intent.
A scientific experiment that did not go well. In the late 1980s, a biodome was setup to see if we can build a self sustaining eco system. It proofed to be very challenging. One of the problem is the limited size. In order to sustain such a system, there needs to be a critical mass. The earth is huge. This one fact, perhaps, more than any other is the reason it is so stable. In the laws of physics, we know about inertia. That is the three laws of motion by Newton.
First law :In an inertial frame of reference , an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity , unless acted upon by a force . Second law :In an inertial frame of reference, the vector sum of the forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration a of the object: F = m a . (It is assumed here that the mass m is constant – see below .) Third law :When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.
The fact that the mass of the earth is so large, the inertia is very hard to overcome. Any changes will take hundreds if not thousand of years to make a dent.
This article does not have answers. It is an essay or observation of life around us, it merely ask some important questions. Perhaps we will have some real answers someday.
Some Related Info
- A Look Back at Arizona's Utterly Beautiful Biodome Failure - Curbed
In 1987, inspired (unsurprisingly) by the facilities of science fiction movies, a company called Space Biosphere Ventures, spearheaded by a group of scientists, began building an artificial, sealed...
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jack Lee