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Journal Article

The Interactive Atmosphere: Global Atmospheric-Biospheric Chemistry

Ronald G. Prinn
Ambio
Vol. 23, No. 1, Integrating Earth System Science (Feb., 1994), pp. 50-61
Published by: Springer on behalf of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4314161
Page Count: 12
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The Interactive Atmosphere: Global Atmospheric-Biospheric Chemistry
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Abstract

The global atmosphere is a chemically complex and dynamic system, interacting both internally, mostly within the troposphere and stratosphere, and with the oceans, land, and living organisms. Its composition is changing today, and has also changed markedly over the last 160 000 yr. Environmentally-significant chemical processes occurring in the atmosphere include those affecting the ozone layer and the levels of radiatively active gases and particles. CH4, a very important greenhouse gas, has major natural and anthropogenic sources; it is destroyed largely by reaction with the hydroxyl radical in the troposphere. Both its sources and sink are strongly influenced by human activity. Nitrous oxide, with a similar range of sources, and chlorofluorocarbons, purely anthropogenic, are also greenhouse gases; however, their potency is offset partially by the ozone they destroy. Ozone, a key chemical and protective ultraviolet shield, has a complex chemistry influenced by many other trace species and is also an important greenhouse gas. Many other trace gases play a key role through their influence on the concentrations of ozone, the hydroxyl radical, and CH4. Gaseous sulfur compounds, both natural and anthropogenic, are oxidized to particulate sulfates which have an important effect on albedo, counteracting the influence of the greenhouse gases. Atmospheric chemistry is therefore closely linked to industrial activity, climate, and land use through many complex environmental processes; these interactions cannot be realistically described by single numbers such as potentials for ozone depletion or global warming. The International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC) project is underway and dedicated to understanding this complex system through a combination of observations, theory, and laboratory and modelling studies.

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