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Unit 2
Part 3: The
Past and Present Atmospheric
• Hydrogen and helium were the primary
components of the earliest atmosphere
• H and He lost to outer space and replaced by:
– Volcanic emissions have added carbon, nitrogen,
oxygen, and sulfur
– Oxygen - majority produced by photosynthesis
• Modern atmosphere:
N2 78% He 0.0005%
O2 21% CH4 0.00015%
Ar 0.9% H2 0.00005%
CO2 0.03% H2O 0-4%
• Ranges in depth from 18 km over the equator to
8.0 km over the poles (Troposphere diagram)
• All weather occurs here
• Composition is relatively uniform; this layer is
well mixed across the planet
• Air temperature drops rapidly with increasing
• Contains ~ 75% of the mass of the atmosphere
• Tropopause - Transition boundary that limits
mixing between the troposphere and upper
zones; created by an abrupt transition in
Atmospheric diagram
• Extends from troposphere to about 50 km
• Air temperature is initially stable and then
increases with altitude
• Similar composition to troposphere
– Exceptions:
• 1000x less H2O vapor
• Ozone is 1000x greater
• Ozone produced when lightning or solar
radiation strike O2 molecules

Atmospheric diagram
Ozone – the basics
• Ozone produced when lightning or solar radiation
strike O2 molecules (formation diagram)
• Stratospheric Ozone = “good” ozone
• Tropospheric Ozone = “bad” ozone which we will
discuss later
• Ozone Formation
– Dynamic process (Diagram)
• UV strikes O2 and ozone is created
• Another UV wave strikes O3, which destroys
the O3
• “Cycle” then repeats
Uppermost layers
• Mesosphere - Middle Layer
• Region of declining temperature
• Minimum temperature is ~ - 80o C
• Thermosphere
– Extends to about 1,600 km
– Ionized gases and high temperatures
– However, the density of the atmosphere is so
low in this region that the actual temperature is
– Aurora borealis (northern lights)

Atmospheric diagram
Uppermost layers
Transition out of the atmosphere and into space is
• No sharp delineation point
• Referred to by some as the “exosphere”

Atmospheric diagram
The Great Weather Engine
• The weather and climate of Earth are driven by
incoming energy from the Sun
• Incoming solar energy at the top of the atmosphere
averages about 1,330 watts/m3
• Amount reaching earth’s surface is at least 10,000
times greater than all installed electric capacity in
the world
• Solar Flux Movie
Determining Earth’s Solar Energy Budget
• Radiative forcing
– The difference between incoming and outgoing
solar radiation
– Differences can result from differing amounts of
insolation (incoming radiation) or quantities of
radiatively active compounds in the atmosphere
• Characteristics of electromagnetic spectrum (
EM spectrum diagram)
– As wavelength (λ) decreases the amount of
energy in the wave increases
– Quality versus quantity
• Quality – mix of λ present in the light
• Quantity – amount of each λ present
Determining Earth’s Solar Energy Budget
• Greenhouse Effect – Longer λ are absorbed in the
lower atmosphere, trapping heat close to the surface
of the planet
– On Earth the Greenhouse has produced a planet-
wide climate that is “just right” (Thank you,
Goldilocks) for the existence of life
– While on a planet like Venus, the Greenhouse
Effect is “out of control” and has led to an average
surface temperature of 461oC (~860oF)
Determining Earth’s Solar Energy Budget
• Incoming Radiation
– Visible light passes through atmosphere
unchanged or reduced in quality or quantity
– UV light is absorbed by stratospheric ozone
Determining Earth’s Solar Energy Budget
• Outgoing Radiation
– Significant portion of energy is reflected (~30%)
• Albedo – surface reflectivity
– Fresh clean snow and ice – 90%
– dark soil – 3%
– water 5-10%
– Net albedo for Earth 30%
– Our moon’s albedo is 12%
– Net albedo for Venus is 65%
Determining Earth’s Solar Energy Budget
• Outgoing Radiation
– Light energy that strikes the surface is absorbed
and then emitted as infrared (IR) radiation
– IR radiation is absorbed by tropospheric CO2,
H2O, and other greenhouse gases
– In the long term, all incoming radiation becomes
outgoing radiation
– Therefore, a planet will need constant supplies of
energy from a sun to maintain a suitable surface
temperature (at the minimum, since Earth also
needs solar energy to drive photosynthesis)
• Solar energy budget diagram
Greenhouse Gases – The good, the bad and
the ugly
• We need greenhouse gases!
• The above statement sometimes gets lost in the
• Without greenhouse gases Earth would be a
frozen (surface at least) lifeless rock
• However, too much of a good thing can (and
usually is) a bad thing
Greenhouse Gases – The good, the bad and
the ugly
• Not all greenhouse gases are created equal
– Length of life in atmosphere
(production/destruction cycle)
– Ability to absorb radiation in terms of both λ and
the quantity absorbed (absorption diagram)
– Contribution to radiative forcing (
radiative forcing diagram)
Greenhouse Gases
• H2O
– Potent greenhouse gas
– Responsible for 36-70% of the greenhouse
effect (depending on location and not including
Greenhouse Gases
• Carbon Dioxide
– Causes 9-26% of greenhouse effect
– By-product of natural (i.e., no human
involvement) reactions:
• End product of biological metabolism
• Inorganic reactions such as chemical
weathering of rocks
– Produced through fossil-fuel burning (human
– Atmospheric levels increasing steadily
Greenhouse Gases
• Methane (CH4)
– Another by-product of biology
• Prokaryotic metabolism (Ruminants and rice
paddies are two significant human enhanced
releases of CH4)
– CH4 is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2
– Responsible for 4-9 % of greenhouse effect
Greenhouse Gases
• Ozone and Oxygen
– Responsible for 3-7% of the greenhouse effect
• Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
– Human made, exclusively. Used in refrigerants
– Use and therefore atmospheric [ ] have declined
in recent years
• Nitrous Oxide - Burning organic material
• Sulfur Hexafluoride - Electrical insulation
What is the difference between weather
and climate?
• Weather - A description of the current physical
conditions of the atmosphere
– Humidity, temperature, pressure, wind, and
– Varies on a short time scale (minutes, hours,
days, weeks)
• Climate - A description of the long-term weather
pattern in a particular area
– Much longer time scale (weeks, months, years,
Energy and Weather
• Energy Balance
– Solar energy is unevenly distributed
• Sun strikes the equator directly all year
• Earth’s axis is tilted
– Energy in motion
• Energy imbalance is evened out by
movement of air and water vapor in the
atmosphere and by liquid water in rivers
and ocean currents.
Convection Currents and Latent
• Lighter air rises and is replaced by cooler, heavier
air, resulting in vertical convection currents.
– Transport energy and redistribute heat.
• A significant amount of solar energy absorbed by
the earth is used to evaporate water.
– Energy stored in water vapor is known as latent
– If condensation nuclei are present, or if
temperatures are low enough, condensation will
lead to precipitation.
Convection Currents
1. Air travels across a moist surface that is sun warmed
2. Air then moves in an area of low pressure at the
3. Rising, expanding air creates an area of high pressure
at the top of the convection column
4. At the top of the column, latent heat is released to
space; the higher the air rises the greater the latent
energy lost
5. Condensation occurs and water rains out
6. Air flows out of high-pressure zone towards areas of
low-pressure, where cool, dry air is subsiding
7. Subsiding air is compressed and warmed in ground
level high pressure zones
8. Air then flows back into ground level low pressure air
and repeats the cycle
Atmospheric convection cycle diagram
Convection Cells and Prevailing Winds
• Air warms at the equator, rises, and moves
poleward, it sinks and rises in several intermediate
bands, forming circulation cells.
– Surface air flows do not move straight North or
South, but are deflected due to the Coriolis Effect
• Major zones of subsidence occur at about 30o
north and south latitude.
– Where dry, subsiding air falls on continents, it
creates broad, subtropical desert regions

Convection cells and prevailing winds diagram

Jet Streams
• Jet Streams - Large-scale upper air flows.
– Typically, follow meandering paths from west to
east (6-12 km above surface)
– Wind speeds are often 200 km/hr
– Number, flow speed, location, and size all vary
on a daily basis
• Usually two main jet streams over North America:
– Subtropical - 30o North
– Northern - Circumpolar vortex (diagram)
• During winter, the Northern Hemisphere tilts
away from the sun and the atmosphere cools,
pushing cold polar air farther south
Seasonal Winds
• Monsoon - Seasonal reversal of wind patterns
caused by differential heating and cooling rates of
oceans and continents.
– Most prevalent in tropical countries where large
land area is cut off from continental air masses
by mountain ranges and surrounded by a large
volume of water
– Countries around the Indian Ocean are most
prone to monsoon weather

• The long term pattern of weather in an area

• Climate is primary determinant in the location of
biomes and ecosystem on Earth
• Distribution of biomes has changed radically over
the course of Earth’s history
• Climate variability is influenced by a variety of
factors, some natural and at least one that is not
Solar intensity
• Changes in the distribution and intensity of
sunlight reaching the earth
– Solar magnetic cycles – changes amount of
light falling on Earth
– Milankovitch Cycles - periodic shifts in earth’s
orbit and tilt
• Eccentricity
• Precession of the equinoxes
• Axial tilt
Aerosol Effects
• Aerosols and other particles in the atmosphere
have a tendency to reflect sunlight and cool
surface air temperatures.
– Short-lived, thus effects are temporary.
– Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 and ejected
enough ash and sulfate particles
• Cooled global climate ~1o C for nearly a
– Similar phenomena (exchange meteor strike
for volcanic eruption) is thought to have
contributed to extinction of dinosaurs
Human-Caused Global Climate Change
• Anthropogenic Greenhouse Effect
– Accelerated atmospheric warming due to human
emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
• Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) estimates average global temperature will
increase over the next century by 1.4 - 5.8o C (2.5 -
10.4o F).
– Difference between current temperature and the
last ice age is only 5o C.
– Every year of the 1990’s was among the 15
hottest of the past millennium.
– Night temperatures generally increased more
than daytime (Urban Heat Island Effect).
– Precipitation rates also increased in certain
The dynamic ozone “cycle”
Electromagnetic spectrum
Solar Radiation Budget for Earth
Convection currents and latent energy
Convection Cells and Prevailing Winds
Circumpolar Vortex
Circumpolar Vortex
Milankovitch Cycles - Eccentricity
Milankovitch Cycles - Precession
Milankovitch Cycles – Axial Tilt