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Earth’s Atmosphere
Comic courtesy of
In the exosphere, beginning at 500 to 1,000 kilometers above
the Earth's surface, the atmosphere turns into space.
In the thermosphere temperatures can rise to 2,000 °C (3,630 °F).
Radiation causes the atmosphere particles in this layer to become
electrically charged enabling radio waves to bounce off and be
received beyond the horizon. You would not feel warm in the
thermosphere – there are too few atoms of gas to transfer
significant heat. The International Space Station has a stable
orbit within the middle of the thermosphere. Auroras occur in the
The mesosphere can be the coldest part of the atmosphere,
where temperatures drop to 130 K (−226 °F; −143 °C). It is also
where meteors disintegrate.
The stratosphere is actually increases in temperature as you
move away from Earth. It also contains the ozone layer.
The troposphere contains approximately 80% of the atmosphere’s
mass and 99% of its water vapor .
Temperature and Pressure
in the atmosphere
Composition of the Troposphere
78.0 %
21.0 %
Water Vapor
Carbon Dioxide
0.9 %
0.3-4.0 %
0.04 %
O3 (ozone)
10 ppmv
CH4 (methane)
1.6 ppmv
N2O (nitric oxide)
350 ppbv
CO (carbon monoxide)
70 ppbv
CFC’s 11-12
0.2-0.3 ppbv
Ozone Layer
Ozone, O3, is a colorless gas. Chemically,
ozone is very active; it reacts readily with a
great many other substances. Near the
Earth’s surface, those reactions cause
rubber to crack, hurt plant life, and damage
people’s lung tissues. But ozone also absorbs
harmful components of sunlight, known as
“ultraviolet B”, or “UV-B”. High above the
surface, above even the weather systems, a
tenuous layer of ozone gas absorbs UV-B,
protecting living things below.
Source: NASA Ozone Watch
The Ozone Cycle
Ozone Destruction
CFCl3, Freon-11
Small, mostly man-made organic molecules
containing chlorine and/or bromine enter
the atmosphere, and find their way to the
stratosphere due to low reactivity.
Once in the stratosphere:
CFCl3 + radiation → CFCl2 + Cl
The chlorine atom changes an ozone molecule to
ordinary oxygen:
Cl + O3 → ClO + O2
The ClO from the previous reaction destroys a second
ozone molecule and restores the chlorine atom, which
can repeat the first reaction and continue to destroy
ClO + O3 → Cl + 2 O2
Sources of
Southern Hemisphere Ozone Hole
September 24, 2006
Each year for the past few
decades during the Southern
Hemisphere spring, chemical
reactions involving chlorine
and bromine cause ozone in
the southern polar region to
be destroyed rapidly and
severely. This depleted
region is known as the “ozone
Source: NASA Ozone Watch
Climate Change
Climate change refers to any significant change in the
measures of climate lasting for an extended period of
time. In other words, climate change includes major
changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind
patterns, among other effects, that occur over
several decades or longer.
Global warming refers to the recent and ongoing rise
in global average temperature near Earth's surface. It
is caused mostly by increasing concentrations of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming is
causing climate patterns to change. However, global
warming itself represents only one aspect of climate
Source: U.S. EPA
Greenhouse Gases
Gases that trap heat in
the atmosphere are called
greenhouse gases. Each
gas's effect on climate
change depends on three
main factors:
 How much of these gases are
in the atmosphere?
 How long do they stay in the
 How strongly do they impact
global temperatures? This is
referred to as “Global
Warming Potential, or GWP
Source: U.S. EPA
U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2012
Total Emissions in 2012 = 6,526 Million
Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent
Carbon Dioxide
Carbon dioxide, CO2, enters
the atmosphere through
burning fossil fuels (coal,
natural gas and oil), solid
waste, trees and wood
products, and also as a result
of certain chemical reactions
(e.g., manufacture of cement).
Carbon dioxide is removed
from the atmosphere when it
is absorbed by plants as part
of the biological carbon cycle.
Source: U.S. EPA
U.S. CO2 Emission Sources
100-year GWP = 1
U.S. Methane Emission Sources
Methane, CH4, is emitted
during the production and
transport of coal, natural
gas, and oil. Methane
emissions also result from
livestock and other
agricultural practices and
by the decay of organic
waste in municipal solid
waste landfills.
100-year GWP = 21
Source: U.S. EPA
Nitrous Oxide
U.S. N2O Emission Sources
Nitrous oxide, N2O, is
emitted during agricultural
and industrial activities, as
well as during combustion
of fossil fuels and solid
100-year GWP = 31 0
Source: U.S. EPA
Fluorinated Gases
U.S. Fluorinated Gas Emission Sources
perfluorocarbons, and
sulfur hexafluoride are
synthetic, powerful
greenhouse gases that are
emitted from a variety of
industrial processes.
These gases are typically
emitted in smaller
quantities, but they are
potent greenhouse gases.
100-year GWP
Source: U.S. EPA
HFCs: 140-11,700
PFCs: 6,500-9,200
SF6: 23,900
Changes in Atmospheric Levels of
Greenhouse Gases
Source: U.S. EPA
Ocean carbon
dioxide levels
have risen in
response to
increased carbon
dioxide in the
leading to an
increase in acidity
(that is, a
decrease in pH).
Source: U.S. EPA