DISCUSSION: With the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala releasing volcanic ash dust into the atmosphere, these particulates could have drastic implications on life in these areas. This discussion will outline some of the elements that can be found in the atmosphere. Some of these can be detrimental to human health.
Particulates are solid and liquid material that can be 0.1 to 100 micrometers in size. These represent about 90% of all atmospheric particles. These can come from natural sources such as ash, dirt, dust, and pollen. Particulates can also come from human activity such as combustion, incineration, and construction. These pollutants are commonly made of carbon and silica, however other elements could be included. A particulates lifespan in the atmosphere can be dependent on its size. Particulates greater than 10 micrometers in size tend to disperse out of the air after emission. Any particulate between 1 and 10 micrometers lifespan is dependent on the state of the atmosphere at the time of emission. Anything less than 1 micrometer can stay in the air for a long time! Particulate matter is classified relative to 2.5 and 10 micrometers. These are labeled as PM2.5 and PM10, respectively.
Carbon in the atmosphere, in one way, can be described by its oxides. The most prevalent ones are Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide. Carbon Monoxide, labeled as CO, is generated by combustion engines. CO is very dangerous to human life as it can easily bind to hemoglobin. This prevents oxygen from reaching the brain and other organs. Carbon Dioxide is produced in a variety of ways. Some of the natural ways that Carbon Dioxide is produced is through volcanoes, plants, weathering of rocks, etc. Carbon Dioxide can be removed by “sinks” in the world. Oceans are one of these “sinks,” by removing roughly 1/3 of the Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. However, Carbon Dioxide has been on a steady increase since the Industrial Revolution. Carbon can also be described as Hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are Carbon molecules attached to an amount of Hydrogen molecules. A notable Hydrocarbon is methane, which is a significant greenhouse gas. Hydrocarbons can be released through natural sources such as animals and wetlands. Human activity such as coal and gas production also produce methane.
Other elements that can be found in the atmosphere with their oxides are Sulfur and Nitrogen. Unlike Nitrogen, Sulfur can also be found in the atmosphere as Hydrogen Sulfide. Nitrogen compounds can arise naturally from oceans and soil decomposition. Nitrogen oxides are produced from human activity and is corrosive to many surfaces. Roughly 2/3rds of sulfur in the atmosphere can come from natural sources. Human activity such as coal plants, gas plants, paper mills, and oil refineries can release sulfur into the atmosphere.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jennifer Naillon