What is Atmosphere?

The atmosphere is a turbulent gaseous blanket that surrounds the earth. The mass of this surrounding atmosphere is less than a millionth part of that of the whole earth, yet its activities and influences are far-reaching. On the average each person breaths 15 kg of air per day. The presence of the atmosphere is necessary to sustain all the types of life of the earth. The atmosphere of Earth is the layer of gases, commonly known as air, that surrounds the planet Earth and is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere of Earth protects life on Earth by creating pressure allowing for liquid water to exist on the Earth's surface, absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention (greenhouse effect), and reducing temperature extremes between day and night. The density of the atmosphere decreases outward, because the gravitational attraction of the planet, which pulls the gases and aerosols (microscopic suspended particles of dust, soot, smoke, or chemicals) inward, is greatest close to the surface. Earth’s atmosphere has been able to contain water in each of its three phases (solid, liquid, and gas), which has been essential for the development of life on the planet.

Evolution of atmosphere

The evolution of Earth’s current atmosphere is not completely understood. It is thought that the current atmosphere resulted from a gradual release of gases both from the planet’s interior and from the metabolic activities of life-forms—as opposed to the primordial atmosphere, which developed by outgassing (venting) during the original formation of the planet. During the early evolution of the atmosphere on Earth, water must have been able to exist as a liquid, since the oceans have been present for at least three billion years. Given that solar output four billion years ago was only about 60 percent of what it is today, enhanced levels of carbon dioxide and perhaps ammonia (NH3) must have been present in order to retard the loss of infrared radiation into space. The initial life-forms that evolved in this environment must have been anaerobic (i.e., surviving in the absence of oxygen). In addition, they must have been able to resist the biologically destructive ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, which was not absorbed by a layer of ozone as it is now.

Components of atmosphere

The current molecular composition of Earth’s atmosphere is diatomic nitrogen (N2), 78.08 percent; diatomic oxygen (O2), 20.95 percent; argon (A), 0.93 percent; water (H20), about 0 to 4 percent; and carbon dioxide (CO2), 0.04 percent. Inert gases such as neon (Ne), helium (He), and krypton (Kr) and other constituents such as nitrogen oxides, compounds of sulfur, and compounds of ozone are found in lesser amounts.

Importance of atmosphere

The atmosphere is an important geological agent. The atmosphere chemically reacts with the rocks oxidizing them to form new minerals. It generally breaks the rocks into smaller fragments leading to disintegration. The atmosphere acts as a thermal blanket which not only distributes the heat received from the sun but also tends to prevent the escape of heat from the earth. Sunlight is subjected to diffusion by the gaseous molecules and the suspended dust particles. Moreover the gaseous envelope surrounding the earth protects the earth from excessive ultra violet radiation and from violent bombardment by meteorites. It may be realized that millions of meteorites fall into the atmosphere of the earth every day but they all get disintegrated by severe heat caused by friction. It acts like a greenhouse and keeps the average temperature of the earth around 35°C and also protects the earth from the harmful radiation of the sun. The atmosphere is a storehouse for water vapour and serves as the medium of faster air transport.