You are here

Atmospheric Composition

Definition

The particles and the concentrations of the particles in the protective envelope surrounding the Earth.

Summary

The composition of the atmosphere - its gases and particles - plays a critical role in connecting human welfare with global and regional changes because the atmosphere links all of the principal components of the Earth system. The atmosphere interacts with the oceans, land, terrestrial and marine plants and animals, and the frozen regions. Because of these linkages, the atmosphere is a conduit of change. Emissions from natural sources and human activities enter the atmosphere at the surface and are transported to other geographical locations and often higher altitudes. Some emissions undergo chemical transformation or removal while in the atmosphere or interact with cloud formation and precipitation. Some natural events and human activities that change atmospheric composition also change the Earth's radiative (energy) balance. Subsequent responses to changes in atmospheric composition by the stratospheric ozone layer, the climate system, and regional chemical composition (air quality), create multiple environmental effects that can influence human health and natural systems.

Research Questions

1. What are the climate-relevant chemical, microphysical, and optical properties, and spatial and temporal distributions, of human-caused and naturally occurring aerosols?

2. What are the atmospheric sources and sinks of the greenhouse gases other than CO2 and the implications for the Earth's energy balance?

3. What are the effects of regional pollution on the global atmosphere and the effects of global climate and chemical change on regional air quality and atmospheric chemical inputs to ecosystems?

4. What are the characteristics of the recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer in response to declining abundances of ozone-depleting gases and increasing abundances of greenhouse gases?

5. What are the couplings and feedback mechanisms among climate change, air pollution, and ozone layer depletion, and their relationship to the health of humans and ecosystems?

Source: Climate Change Science Program, and The Subcommittee Global Change Research. "Our Changing Planet: The U.S. Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Year 2006." Washington: Climate Change Science Program Office, 2006.

Other Research Areas