The Physics
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Mass of the Atmosphere

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Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992: 278. "5.8 × 1015 tons
(5.3 × 1015 metric tons)"
5.3 × 1018 kg
Campbell, I. M. Energy and the Atmosphere. New York: Wiley, 1977: 350. "5.3 × 1018 kg" 5.3 × 1018 kg
Wayne, Richard P. Chemistry of Atmosphere. Oxford: Clarendon, 1985: 210. "5 × 1018 kg" 5 × 1018 kg
Cook, A.H. Physics of the Earth and Planets. New York: Wiley, 1973: 276. "5.27 × 1018 kg" 5.27 × 1018 kg
Compton's Encyclopedia. Chicago: Compton's, 1996: 217. "Estimated to be some 5.5 quadrillion (55 followed by 14 zeros) tons (4.99 quadrillion metric tons)" 4.99 × 1018 kg

The atmosphere is the transparent envelope of gases and suspended particles that surrounds the Earth. Many of the physical and chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere are directly related to its composition. Pressure and density also are important. Atmospheric pressure, usually expressed in units called millibars, is the force that the total mass of air in an imaginary vertical column exerts on a given horizontal area of the Earth's surface. The density in the atmosphere is proportional to the pressure (mass per unit volume). This relationship, called Boyle's Law, says that density decreases with height in the atmosphere. As height increases, less mass remains above a given point, therefore less pressure is exerted. The atmosphere provides us with oxygen and water, two of the items were mostly needed to human survival. The physics, chemistry, and dynamics of atmospheric processes are studied to understand, predict, and control events affecting weather, climates, and pollution. A mixture of the heavier gases in the atmosphere lies near the earth. About 95% of the atmosphere by mass below the 25 km altitude. For the Earth, half the mass of the atmosphere lies below about 5.5 km altitude, and 99 per cent below 30 km. The atmosphere is mostly made up of oxygen and nitrogen in their diatomic forms. Without chemical processes involving several of the atmospheric gases, life could not exist. After researching in many books to find the mass of the earth's atmosphere, I found out that the answer is approximately 5 × 1018 kg.

Louise Liu -- 1999

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Lide, David R. Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 1996: 14-7. "Mass of atmosphere: 5.136 × 1018 kg" 5.136 × 1018 kg
Allaby, Michael. "Air." Facts on File. 1992: 14. "… the total mass of the atmosphere, which is about 5 million billion (5 × 1015) tons" 5.5 × 1018 kg
Fleagle, Robert G. & Joost A. Businger. An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics. Academic Press, 1963: 13. "… the total mass of the atmosphere is 5 × 1019 kg" 5.0 × 1019 kg
Macmillan Encyclopedia of Physics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996: 1236. "The total mass of the atmosphere is approximately 5.2 × 1018 kg, more than 99% of which is within 30 km of the surface." 5.2 × 1018 kg

Andrea Gillespie -- 1998