Revised September 23, 2010 9:00 PM

The Composition of Air
David Randall

Pressure is the normal component of the force per unit area exerted by fluid molecules. In an ideal fluid the pressure at a point is the same in all directions. The unit of pressure commonly used in the atmospheric sciences is 1 mb = 100 h Pa. Temperature is a measure of the kinetic energy of the random molecular motions. A perfect gas is one that exactly obeys the laws of Boyle and Charles. The equation of state for such a gas is

p! = R"# ,
(1)

where R! is the “specific” gas constant. The specific gas constant varies with the type of gas. Avogadro found that 1 g molecular weight (mole) of any gas occupies 22400 cm 3 at temperature

! 0 = 0 ! C , at pressure p0 = 1 . (Obviously, this reference temperature and reference pressure have
been arbitrarily chosen, and the particular volume measured, i.e. 22400 cm 3 , depends on these choices.) This means that, for the particular case of V0 = 22400 cm 3 , the equation of state becomes

p0V0 = mR!" 0 ,
(2)

where m is the molecular weight. Avogadro’s discovery implies that there exists a universal gas constant:

R* = mR! =
The equation of state can now be written as

p0V0 . "0
(3)

R* p! = " . m
(4)

Quick Studies in Atmospheric Science Copyright David Randall, 2010

444 44. Mass fraction of the “dry” portion of the atmosphere. and so obey (4). Except for water vapor and ozone.000 39. N2. The composition of dry air is nearly homogeneous below 20 km. pi is the partial pressure. practically speaking.Revised September 23. which are all.010 75. i. the total pressure due to the mixture of gases is the sum of the partial pressures exerted by the individual gases. He. J kg K-1 296. whose concentrations vary greatly. Therefore.. H 2 . and N2O.9 Nitrogen Oxygen Argon Carbon Dioxide 28. each gas obeys its own equation of state. Ne. i =1 i =1 i = 1 mi (6) n n n Using Quick Studies in Atmospheric Science Copyright David Randall. perfect gases. and m is the molecular weight. R* ! piV = M i Ri " = M i " . R* is the universal gas constant. O2. Dalton's law states that: • • • each gas completely occupies the volume. i = 1.0035 Table 1: The composition of “dry air. CH4. the concentrations of the other principal constituents of the atmosphere. are nearly homogeneous up to about 80 km.8 208. R! .52 23. CO2.7 259.15 1. 2010 . 2. M i is the mass.1 188. Ar. argon. ….016 32. oxygen.. carbon dioxide. etc. “dry air” is a mixture of nitrogen.” For a mixture of perfect gases occupying volume V at temperature T . It follows that M V ! pi = " ! M i Ri# = R*" ! i . mi (5) Here subscript i denotes a particular species.28 0. n . Kr. 2010 9:00 PM As shown in Table 1.e. Gas Molecular Weight.

The apparent molecular weight of dry air is R* md = ! 28. V i =1 (7) we find that p = ! R" .966 g mole !1 . R = Rd ! 287 J kg K . with a “virtual temperature. (8) is often modified to use the gas constant for dry air. # ! " i =1 i =1 n Mi . (8) where the effective gas constant of the mixture is n R!# i =1 !1 !1 n M i Ri" M =# i . M i = 1 mi (9) For dry air. M ! " Mi .” Quick Studies in Atmospheric Science Copyright David Randall. R (10) When the effects of moisture are included.Revised September 23. 2010 9:00 PM n n p ! " pi . 2010 .