The Atmosphere

Getting Ready for Chapter 3
The Atmosphere


Chapter 2 set the stage for a comprehensive survey of the earth system. We'll begin with the atmosphere, the subject of chapter 3. The structure and composition of our present day atmosphere has been relatively stable for millions of years. During the depths of the ice ages, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere especially decreased which helped keep air temperatures cool. But levels of oxygen have remained fairly constant, even through the ice ages for the last 50 million years or so. But, the composition of the atmosphere especially greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are changing at rates much greater than they did in the past. These changes are in part due to natural forces, but increasingly are due to the activities of humans.

Concentrations of Greenhouse Gases

Concentrations of Greenhouse Gases from 0 to 2005
(Courtesy IPCC)

In Chapter 3 "The Atmosphere" we'll examine the composition of the atmosphere and the importance of particular gases to the functioning of the earth system. We'll look out the structure of the atmosphere and how scientists have subdivided it based on vertical temperature patterns and the function of the different atmospheric layers. We'll also peek into the future to see what changes we can expect in our atmosphere as it changes in response to the activities of an ever-increasing population and an evolving world economy.


What you should already know ...

Chapter 3 explores the the composition and structure of the atmosphere. The atmosphere interacts with the other subsystems of the earth system. Have a good understanding of the atmosphere as a system (See Components of the Earth System and Types of Systems). Biogeochemical cycles are the means whereby substances are transformed and transported through the earth system. The composition of the atmosphere is directly influenced by these cycles (see: Biogeochemical cycles)


1. The atmosphere is considered  

an open system
a closed system
an isolated system
None of the above

2. The early atmosphere was a product of _____.

tectonic plate movement
none of the above

3. A change in a system property that encourages further system change is called 

a positive feedback
a negative feedback
a threshold
an equilibrium trigger

4. Evaporation transfers _____ from the hydrosphere to the atmosphere.

heat and mass
none of the above

5. ______ is a feature of systems where no additional forcing is required for a large climate change and impact to occur.

A positive feedback
A tipping point
A negative feedback
None of the above

6. Which of the following would act to keep a system in a state of equilibrium?

a positive feedback
a negative feedback
a threshold
an equilibrium trigger

7.  _______ is responsible for most of the oxygen found in the atmosphere.

Photosynthesizing vegetation
Rock weathering
Animal respiration

8. ______ is responsible for most of the water vapor entering the atmosphere.

Plant transpiration
Evaporation of water from land
Evaporation of water from the oceans

9. Though the atmosphere's temperature has varied throughout geologic history, much of the time it has been considered to be 

in a state of dynamic equilibrium
in steady-state equilibrium
in a non-equilibrium state
in a geo-equilibrium state

10. The heat to raise the temperature of the air ultimately comes from ______ sources of energy.

both endogenic and exogenic
none of the above


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Correct answers:

About your score ....

If you scored 80% or above, Great! ... start reading the chapter.

If you scored 70% to 80% you should consider reviewing the previous chapter.

If you scored less than 70% you should consider reviewing the previous chapter and seeking help from your instructor.



For Citation: Ritter, Michael E. The Physical Environment: an Introduction to Physical Geography.
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