Chemistry of the Atmosphere

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  • Chemistry of the Atmosphere
    • evolution of the atmosphere
      • phase 1
        • the first billion years the earths surface was covered in volcanoes that erupted and released lots of gases
        • the early atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide with barely any oxygen
        • the volcanos also released nitrogen which built up in the atmosphere over time, as well as water vapour and small amounts of methane and ammonia
      • phase 2
        • when the water vapour is condensed it forms the oceans
        • the carbon dioxide dissolved into the oceans and went through a series of reactions to form carbonate precipitates that formed sediments on the seabed
        • green plants and algae evolved and absorbed some of the carbon dioxide that they can use for photosynthesis
        • later marine animals evolved as their shells and skeletons contained carbonates from the oceans
        • some of the carbons these organisms took from the atmosphere became locked up in rocks and fossil fuels after they died
      • phase 3
        • green plants and algae also produce oxygen by photosynthesis
        • as oxygen levels build up in the atmosphere over time, more complex life could evolve
        • about 200 million years ago, the atmosphere reached a similar composition to as it is today
          • 80% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, and small amounts of other gases(mainly carbon dioxide, noble gasses and water vapour)
    • greenhouse gases and climate change
      • consequences of climate change
        • increase in temperature could cause polar ice caps to melt - cause rising in sea levels, increase flooding in costal areas and costal errosion
        • changes in rainfall patterns - cause some regions to get too much or too little water - may affect the ability of certain regions to produce food
        • frequency and severity of storms may increase
        • changes in temperature and amount of water in a habitat may affect wild species - leading to differences in their distribution
      • greenhouse gases
        • carbon dioxide
          • its a greenhouse gas
          • the extra carbon dioxide from human activity is causing the earths temperature to increase - will lead to climate change
        • greenhouses gases - carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour
        • act like an insulating layer in the earths atmosphere
        • they don't absorb the incoming short wavelength radiation from the sun but they do absorb the long wavelength radiation that gets reflected back off the earth
          • they then radiate it in all directions - including back to earth
          • the longwave radiation is thermal radiation - results in warming the surface of the earth - this is the greenhouse effect
        • human activities that affect the amount of greenhouse gases:
          • deforestation - fewer trees mean less CO2 is removed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis
          • burning fossil fuels - carbon that was 'locked up' in these fuels is released as CO2
          • agriculture - more farm animals produce more methane through their digestive process
          • creating waste - more landfill sites and more waste from agriculture means more CO2 and methane released by decomposition of waste
    • carbon footprints
      • ways of reducing carbon footprints
        • renewable energy sources or nuclear energy can be used instead of fossil fuels
        • using more efficient processes could conserve energy and cut waste - will reduce methane emissions
        • governments can tax companies or individuals based on the amount of greenhouses gases they emit
          • could impact the economic growth of communities
        • governments can put a cap on emissions of all greenhouse gases companies make - sell licenses for emissions up to that cap
        • theres technology that captures the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels before its released into the atmosphere - can then be stored deep underground in cracks in the rocks
        • because not everyone is on board its hard to make international agreements to reduce emissions
          • most countries don't want to sacrifice their economic development if they think others wont do the same
        • it might be hard to get people to make changes if they don't want to and if there isn't enough education provided about why the changes are necessary and how to make them
      • a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released over the full life cycle of something
      • measuring the total carbon footprint of something can be really hard / impossible
        • because there's so many factors to consider
    • air pollution
      • combustion of fossil fuels
        • during incomplete combustion solid particles of soot and unburnt fuel are released and carbon monoxide can be produced as well as carbon dioxide
        • if particulates are inhaled hey can get stuck in the lungs and cause damage - lead to respiratory problems
        • particulates are bad for the environment  - they themselves or the clouds they create reflect sunlight back into space - means that less light reaches the earth - causes global dimming
        • carbon monoxide is really dangerous as it can stop your blood from doing its proper job of carrying oxygen around the body
          • it does this by binding to the haemoglobin in your blood that normally carries O2
          • a lack of oxygen in the blood can lead to fainting, a coma or death
          • it has no colour or smell so its very hard to detect
      • sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen
        • sulfur dioxide is released during the combustion of fossil fuels that contain sulfur impurities - the sulfur becomes oxidised
        • nitrogen oxides are created from a reaction between the nitrogen and oxygen in the air caused by the heat of the burning
        • when the gases mix with clouds they form dilute sulfuric acid or dilute nitric acid - this then falls as acid rain
          • acid rain kills plants and damages buildings and statues. it also makes metal corrode
        • they can be bad for human health - can cause respiratory problems if breathed in


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