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Blowin' in the Wind, Issue #035 Here are some gases used in meteorology - September 28, 2006
September 27, 2006
Some gases used in meteorologyWhat are the most abundant gases used in meteorology? This list describes the components of earth's atmosphere. In case you ever wondered what air is made of.
nitrogen (78.8%) - The majority of our air is nitrogen. It is colourless, odourless and relatively harmless in its usual form. However, it can be used to make explosives and harsh chemicals.
oxygen (20.947%) - Nearly all of the rest of the air is oxygen. It is essential, but very explosive. We concern ourselves with atmospheric oxygen depletion, but other environmental problems prevail at the moment. Oxygen can rearrange itself to create ozone as well.
argon (0.934%) - Another colorless odorless and inert (harmless) gas. It is useful in pure form for creating micro-environments not conducive to decomposition or combustion. In Chemistry, it is known as a Noble Gas.
carbon dioxide (0.00038%, 381 ppm, parts per million) - One more colorless oderless and inert gas. No wonder clean air has no smell and is so stable. Its molecule contains carbon and oxygen stuck together. The carbon dioxide msds shows it freezes at at -78.5°C into dry ice. And CO2, as we often call it, makes our Coca-Cola all fizzy. The most common greenhouse gas as well.
neon (18.2 ppm) - Another inert gas, also invisible and odorless. This gas glows brighly when electricity flows through it, making neon signs possible. Another noble gas.
helium (5.24 ppm) - Colourless. Odourless. Nobel. Inert. Sound familiar? This is physically one of our gases used in meteorology. In the form of weather balloon helium to transport our radiosondes.
methane (1.75 ppm) - Colorless? - yes. Odorless? - you bet. Inert? Not in your life. Very explosive, valuable energy source. Coalbed methane gets gathered and sold commercially. CH4 (methane) is a powerful greenhouse gas.
krypton (1.14 ppm) - This one is a bit white in appearance. But there is so little of it in air, you don't even notice. But it's still odorless. Even Superman has no problem with this one.
hydrogen (0.55 ppm) - Another explosive gas which exists in molecules nearly everywhere. Hydrogen wavelengths make it a useful gas in electromagnetic industries.
A special gas...water vapor in air (0.1 to 2.5 %) - Water as a gas. It causes the air to feel humid. Aqueous vapour, as we sometimes call it, forms an important part of the hydrological cycle.
Gases used in meteorology for...air quality research. They occur on an occasional basis:
sulphur dioxide or sulfur dioxide, sometimes misspelled sulfer dioxide - Can't see it, but it smells like a burnt match. Irritating and even lethal at high enough concentrations. Usually no SO2, or almost none, in our air. Used to preserve food.
nitrogen dioxide - Brown. Poisonous. Irritating. Found in vehicle exhaust. Used as a catalyst in industry. NO2 has a sharp odor. Often created by Nitric Oxide reacting with Ozone or Oxygen.
carbon monoxide - Colorless and odorless but carbon monoxide poisons people quite often. Herein lies the danger - you can't tell it's there until too late (sometimes). CO comes from burning, either cigarettes, car engines or other combustion.
hydrogen sulphide - El Stinko! It's not visible, but doesn't need to be. Hydrogen sulfide, H2S, smells like rotten eggs, reacts easily and bleaches surfaces it comes in contact with. It comes from industry, especially natural gas, as well as volcanoes.
There are many more gases used in meteorology, but their amounts are much less and the applications are much more specialized.
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