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Geosciences LibreTexts

The Atmosphere

Life as we know it on the Earth is entirely dependent on the tenuous layer of gas that clings to the surface of the globe, adding about 1% to its diameter and an insignificant amount to its total mass. And yet the atmosphere serves as the earth’s window and protective shield, as a medium for the transport of heat and water, and as source and sink for exchange of carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen with the biosphere. The atmosphere acts as a compressible fluid tied to the earth by gravitation; as a receptor of solar energy and a thermal reservoir, it constitutes the working fluid of a heat engine that transports and redistributes matter and energy over the entire globe. The atmosphere is also a major temporary repository of a number of chemical elements that move in a cyclic manner between the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and the upper lithosphere. Finally, the atmosphere is a site for a large variety of complex photochemically initiated reactions involving both natural and anthropogenic substances.