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.