AP Environmental Science Unit 2 Part 3: The Atmosphere

Past and Present Atmospheric Composition
• 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% O2 21% Ar 0.9% CO2 0.03% He 0.0005% CH4 0.00015% H2 0.00005% 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 altitude • 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 temperature
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 low – Aurora borealis (northern lights)
Atmospheric diagram

Uppermost layers
Transition out of the atmosphere and into space is gradual • 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 planetwide 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 debate • 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 clouds)

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 caused) – 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 precipitation – 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, decades)

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 Heat
• 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 heat. – If condensation nuclei are present, or if temperatures are low enough, condensation will lead to precipitation.

Convection Currents
1. 2. Air travels across a moist surface that is sun warmed Air then moves in an area of low pressure at the surface 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 year – 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 regions

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