Introduction to the Atmosphere
The atmosphere is a cloud of gas and suspended solids extending from the Earth's surface out many thousands of miles, becoming increasingly thinner with distance but always held by the Earth's gravitational pull.
The atmosphere surrounds the Earth and holds the air we breathe; it protects us from outer space; and holds moisture (clouds), gases, and tiny particles. In short, the atmosphere is the protective bubble in which we live.
|Neon||Ne||18.20 parts per million|
|Helium||He||5.20 parts per million|
|Krypton||Kr||1.10 parts per million|
|Sulfur dioxide||SO2||1.00 parts per million|
|Methane||CH4||2.00 parts per million|
|Hydrogen||H2||0.50 parts per million|
|Nitrous oxide||N2O||0.50 parts per million|
|Xenon||Xe||0.09 parts per million|
|Ozone||O3||0.07 parts per million|
|Nitrogen dioxide||NO2||0.02 parts per million|
|Iodine||I2||0.01 parts per million|
Oxygen is used by all living things and is essential for respiration. It is also necessary for combustion or burning.
Argon is used in light bulbs, in double-pane windows, and used to preserve the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Plants use carbon dioxide to make oxygen. Carbon dioxide also acts as a blanket that prevents the escape of heat into outer space.
These percentages of atmospheric gases are for a completely dry atmosphere. The atmosphere is rarely, if ever, dry. Water vapor (water in a 'gas' state) is nearly always present up to about 4% of the total volume.
Water vapor contribution climbs to near 3% on extremely hot/humid days. The upper limit, approaching 4%, is found in tropical climates. The table (above) shows the changes in atmospheric composition with the inclusion of different amounts of water vapor.