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The Earth's Atmosphere

In this worksheet, students will learn about the composition of the Earth's atmosphere and how it has changed since the Earth was formed.

'The Earth's Atmosphere' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 3

Curriculum topic:  Chemistry: Earth and Atmosphere

Curriculum subtopic:  Composition of the Atmosphere

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

The picture shows part of the Earth in a satellite image with the atmosphere as the illuminated blue line surrounding it.

 

Earth from space

 

The Earth's atmosphere contains air particles, as well as water particles which form clouds. It is a layer of gases that are retained by the Earth's gravity. The atmosphere is made of several layers shown in the diagram below. The layers in the image are not to scale with the image of the Earth. Their real dimensions are labelled in the diagram.

 

Atmosphere of Earth

 

 

It is believed that the early atmosphere was formed mainly by gases emitted by volcanic activity. These gases were carbon dioxide, ammonia, water vapour and methane. Oxygen was totally absent or very limited. When the Earth cooled down, water vapour condensed and formed the oceans.

 

Only bacteria could live in an oxygen-free environment; bacteria were the very first form of life on Earth and the first organisms that developed photosynthesis. Later on, plants further added oxygen to the atmosphere so more complex organisms evolved. 

 

The composition of the atmosphere today is shown in the diagram below:

Composition of air

Unfortunately, human activity is constantly altering the Earth's atmosphere with pollution. The consequences will be devastating:

  • Soot is incompletely burned carbon from burning of fossil fuels. It coats leaves, reducing their ability to photosynthesise. Soot is also harmful for humans to breathe, leading to an increased risk of bronchitis and lung cancer. It mixes with snow in the Arctic areas and causes melting of the ice.
  • Combustion (burning) of fossil fuels pollutes the air with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen dissolve in water in clouds and form acid rain. Acid rain causes breathing problems, damage to trees and erosion of buildings. Carbon dioxide and some other gases are called greenhouse gases. They trap heat from the Sun in the atmosphere, which leads to global warming.
  • Smog is formed when smoke particles mix with fog. Smog is a major problem in large cities and damages the lungs.
  • CFCs produced by aerosols and refrigerators damage the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation, leading to an increase in skin cancer.

What is the lowest layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth?

troposphere

stratosphere

mesosphere

What gas was very limited or totally absent from the early Earth's atmosphere?

What was the first form of life on the early Earth?

What is the most abundant gas in the Earth's atmosphere today?

What percentage of the Earth's atmosphere does oxygen take up today?

20%

21%

22%

Tick two substances that are produced from burning.

smoke

smog

soot

sulphur

What is the main greenhouse gas?

coal dioxide

carbon dioxide

sulphur dioxide

There is a pollutant factor that is caused by two particular gases in the air.

 

Thinking about what sort of pollution these two gases cause, complete this sentence (using two words):

coal dioxide

carbon dioxide

sulphur dioxide

Greenhouse gases form a layer in the Earth's atmosphere and trap heat. What does this lead to?

 

Write two words.

The ozone layer protects the Earth from what type of Sun radiation?

infrared

gamma

ultraviolet

  • Question 1

What is the lowest layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth?

CORRECT ANSWER
troposphere
EDDIE SAYS
The atmosphere's layer closest to the Earth is called the troposphere. This is the part we live in and breathe in and even fly planes in.
  • Question 2

What gas was very limited or totally absent from the early Earth's atmosphere?

CORRECT ANSWER
oxygen
EDDIE SAYS
Early in Earth's history the atmosphere was full of CO2, SO2, methane and other gases, but very little oxygen. As the cyanobacteria got to work, we believe that they were largely responsible for changing the composition of the atmosphere, introducing a high level of oxygen, and kick-starting the possibility of life on our planet.
  • Question 3

What was the first form of life on the early Earth?

CORRECT ANSWER
bacteria
EDDIE SAYS
We believe that bacteria formed the early life of our planet and the cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae) developed an early system of photosynthesis that put oxygen into the air.
  • Question 4

What is the most abundant gas in the Earth's atmosphere today?

CORRECT ANSWER
nitrogen
EDDIE SAYS
At 78%, nitrogen (N2) forms more than ¾ of the volume of the gases in the air. That means that Every Breath You Take is mostly nitrogen!
  • Question 5

What percentage of the Earth's atmosphere does oxygen take up today?

CORRECT ANSWER
21%
EDDIE SAYS
So, 21% (or about ⅕) of the air you breathe in is oxygen. In fact, if it was a lot more than that, it would have a very dramatic effect upon life (and the length of life) as well as causing flammable objects to burn much more readily!
  • Question 6

Tick two substances that are produced from burning.

CORRECT ANSWER
smoke
soot
EDDIE SAYS
Burning produces soot and smoke. Smoke mixed with fog makes smog, whereas it is sulphur dioxide and not sulphur that is produced by burning fossil fuels.
  • Question 7

What is the main greenhouse gas?

CORRECT ANSWER
carbon dioxide
EDDIE SAYS
From the above list, CO2 forms the main contributor to global warming. Having said that, the gas methane is more than 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas.
  • Question 8

There is a pollutant factor that is caused by two particular gases in the air.

 

Thinking about what sort of pollution these two gases cause, complete this sentence (using two words):

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Acid rain was a particular pollution problem of the last century, due to the higher incidence of fossil fuel burning at source, e.g. using coal fires to heat homes. Although it is still a factor, the situation has improved. SO2 is a common by-product of coal-burning and oxides of nitrogen (commonly called NOX) come from vehicle exhaust pipes.
  • Question 9

Greenhouse gases form a layer in the Earth's atmosphere and trap heat. What does this lead to?

 

Write two words.

CORRECT ANSWER
global warming
greenhouse effect
climate change
EDDIE SAYS
Gases like CO2 and methane have the ability to absorb certain wavelengths of heat radiation from the sun and so 'trap' heat within our atmosphere. As we have begun to understand how this happens and the implications of it, terms like 'global warming' and 'greenhouse' effect' have arisen to describe this and the effect it is having on our climate: that's climate change.
  • Question 10

The ozone layer protects the Earth from what type of Sun radiation?

CORRECT ANSWER
ultraviolet
EDDIE SAYS
You'll know this from your sunbathing: suntan lotion contains ingredients which screen out the dangerous UV radiation which can damage the skin. Having said that, our first line of defence is the miracle that is the ozone layer - a thin layer of gas (O3) high in the atmosphere which stops most of the dangerous UV rays reaching the surface at all.
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