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Earth's atmosphere is a unique reservoir of gases, the product of nearly 5 billion years of development.

It sustains us and protects us from hostile radiation and particles from the Sun and beyond-the atmosphere serves as an efficient filter.When astronauts work in space, they must wear a bulky spacesuit that does everything to sustain and protect them that the atmosphere does for us all the time.Atmosphere is a gaseous mixture of ancient origin, the sum of all the exhalations and inhalations of life on Earth throughout time. The principal substance of this atmosphere is air, the medium of life as well as a major industrial and chemical raw material. Air is a simple mixture of gases that is naturally odorless, colorless, tasteless, and formless, blended so thoroughly that it behaves as if it were a single gas

ATMOSPHERIC PROFILE: We consider the top of our atmosphere to be around 480 km (300 mi) above Earth's surface, the same altitude we use for measuring
the solar constant and insolation receipt. Beyond that altitude, the atmosphere is rarefied (nearly a vacuum) and is called the exosphere, which means "outer sphere." It contains scarce lightweight hydrogen and helium atoms, weakly bound by gravity as far as 32,000 km (20,000 mi) from Earth.Earth's modern atmosphere is in a series of imperfectly shaped concentric "shells" or "spheres" that grade into one another, all bound to the planet by gravity.As critical as the atmosphere is to us, it represents only the thinnest envelope, amounting to less than one-millionth of Earth's total mass. We study the atmosphere by viewing it in layers that have distinctive properties and purposes.We simplify this complexity by using three atmospheric criteria: composition, temperature, and function. Earth's atmosphere exerts its weight, pressing downward under the pull of gravity. Air molecules create air pressure through their motion, size, and number.Pressure is exerted on all surfaces in contact with the air. The weight (force over a unit area) of the atmosphere, or air pressure, pushes in on all of us.Fortunately, that same pressure also exists inside us pushing outward; otherwise we would be crushed by the mass of air around us.Gravity compresses air, making it denser near Earth's surface; it thins rapidly with increasing altitude.

Atmospheric Composition Criterion

1.Using chemical composition as a criterion, the atmosphere divides into two broad regions, the heterosphere (80 to 480 km altitude) and the homosphere (Earth's surface to 80 km altitude). As you read, note that we follow the same path that incoming solar radiation travels through the atmosphere to Earth's surface. 2.The heterosphere is the outer atmosphere in terms of composition. It begins at about 80 km (50 mi) altitude and extends outward to the transition to the exosphere and interplanetary space.The International Space Station and most Space Shuttle missions orbit in the upper heterosphere.As the prefix hetero - implies, this region is not unifom - its gases are not evenly mixed. 3.This distribution is quite different from the nicely blended gases we breathe near Earth's surface, in the homosphere. Gases in the heterosphere occur in distinct layers sorted by gravity according to their atomic weight, with the lightest elements (hydrogen and helium) at the margins of outer space and the heavier elements (oxygen and nitrogen) dominant in the lower heterosphere. 4.Below the heterosphere is the other compositional shell of the atmosphere, the homosphere. This region extends from an altitude of 80 km (50 mi) to Earth's surface. Even though the atmosphere rapidly changes density in the homosphere - increasing toward Earth's surface - the blend (proportion) of gases is nearly uniform throughout the homosphere.The stable mixture of gases comprising air in the homosphere evolved slowly. The present proportion, which includes oxygen, evolved approximately 500 million years ago. 5.The homosphere is a vast reservoir of relatively inert nitrogen, originating principally from volcanic sources.Nitrogen is a key element of life, yet we exhale all the nitrogen we inhale.The explanation for this contradiction is that nitrogen integrates into our bodies not from the air we breathe but through compounds in food.In the soil, nitrogen is bound to these compounds by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and it returns to the atmosphere by denitrifying bacteria that remove nitrogen from organic materials.The other main constituent gases are Oxygen, Argon and Carbon dioxide.Although it forms about one fifth of the atmosphere, oxygen forms compounds that forms half of Earths crust

Atmospheric Temperature Criterion

Shifting to temperature as a criterion, the atmosphere has four distinct temperature zones - the thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, and troposphere. 1.Thermosphere: we define the thermosphere ("heat sphere") as roughly corresponding to the heterosphere.The upper limit of the thermosphere is called the thermopause (the suffix -pause means "to change"). 2.During periods of a less active Sun (fewer sunspots and coronal bursts), the thermopause may lower in altitude from the average 480 km (300 mi) to only 250 km altitude (155 mi). An active Sun will cause the outer atmosphere to swell to an altitude of 550 km (340 mi), where it can create frictional drag on satellites in low orbit. 3.Despite such high temperatures, the thermosphere is not "hot" in the way you might expect. Temperature and heat are different concepts. However, the actual heat involved is very small. The reason is that the density of molecules is so low. There is little actual heat produced, or the flow of kinetic energy from one body to another because of a temperature difference between them. 4.Heating in the atmosphere near Earth's surface is different because the greater number of molecules in the denser atmosphere transmits their kinetic energy as sensible heat, meaning that we can measure it.

Mesosphere: the mesosphere is the area from 50 to 80 km (30 to 50 mi) above Earth and is the highest in altitude of the three temperature regions within the homosphere. 1.the mesosphere's outer boundary, the mesopause, is the coldest portion of the atmosphere, averaging -90C ( -130F).The mesosphere sometimes receives cosmic or meteoric dust, acting as nuclei around which fine ice crystals form. At high latitudes, an observer may see these bands of crystals glow in rare and unusual night clouds called noctilucent clouds. Stratosphere : the stratosphere extends from 18 to 50 km from Earth's surface. Temperatures increase with altitude throughout the stratosphere, from -57C at 18 km (tropopause), warming to 0C at 50 km at the stratosphere's outer boundary, the stratopause.

Troposphere: the troposphere is the final layer encountered by incoming solar radiation as it surges through the atmosphere to the surface. It is the home of the biosphere, the atmospheric layer that supports life, and the region of principal weather activity. Approximately 90% of the total mass of the atmosphere and the bulk of all water vapor, clouds, air pollution, and life forms are within the troposphere.The tropopause, its upper limit, is defined by an average temperature of57C ( -70F), but its exact elevation varies with the season, latitude, and surface temperatures and pressures. Near the equator, because of intense heating from the surface, the tropopause occurs at 18 km (11 mi); in the middle latitudes, it occurs at 12 km (8 mi); and at the North and South Poles it is only 8 km (5 mi) or less above Earth's surface. temperatures decrease rapidly with increasing altitude,a rate known as the normal lapse rate. The normal lapse rate is an average. The actual lapse rate at any particular time and place, which may deviate considerably because of local weather conditions, is called the environmental lapse rate.

Atmospheric Function Criterion

Looking at our final atmospheric criterion of function, the atmosphere has two specific zones that remove most of the harmful wavelengths of incoming solar radiation and charged particles: the ionosphere and the ozonosphere (ozone layer). Ionosphere: the ionosphere, extends throughout the thermosphere and into the mesosphere below . The ionosphere absorbs cosmic rays, gamma rays, X-rays, and shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation, changing atoms to positively charged ions and giving the ionosphere its name. Ozonosphere : that portion of the stratosphere that contains an increased level of ozone is the ozonosphere, or ozone layer.Ozone is a highly reactive oxygen molecule made up of three oxygen atoms (O3) instead of the usual two atoms (O2) that make up oxygen gas. Ozone absorbs wavelengths of ultraviolet light and subsequently reradiates this energy at longer wavelengths, as infrared radiation. This process converts most harmful ultraviolet radiation, effectively "filtering" it and safeguarding life at Earth's surface.The ozone layer is presumed to have been relatively stable over the past several hundred million years (allowing for daily and seasonal fluctuations).Today, however, it is in a state of continuous change due the anthropogenic causes. Scientists warn of serious health consequences due to the hole on the ozone layer that has been growing during the last century. Variable Atmospheric Components The troposphere contains natural and human-caused variable gases, particles, and other chemicals.Air pollution is not a new problem. In human experience, cities are always the place where the environment's natural ability to process and recycle waste is most taxed.Air pollution is closely linked to our production and consumption of energy and resources. Natural Sources -Natural air pollution sources produce a greater quantity of pollutants- nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons from plants and trees, and carbon dioxide-than do human-made sources. Anthropogenic Pollution- Anthropogenic, or human-caused, air pollution remains most prevalent in urbanized regions.The pollutants result from combustion of fossil fuels in transportation (specifically automobiles) and at stationary sources such as power plants and factories