Print

Science

Changes to the Earth and its atmosphere

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  1. Back
  2. Next

Evolution of the atmosphere

The early atmosphere

Scientists believe that the Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. Its early atmosphere was probably formed from the gases given out by volcanoes. It is believed that there was intense volcanic activity for the first billion years of the Earth's existence.

The early atmosphere was probably mostly carbon dioxide, with little or no oxygen. There were smaller proportions of water vapour, ammonia and methane. As the Earth cooled down, most of the water vapour condensed and formed the oceans.

It is thought that the atmospheres of Mars and Venus today, which contain mostly carbon dioxide, are similar to the early atmosphere of the Earth.

Changes in the atmosphere

So how did the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere go down, and the proportion of oxygen go up?

The proportion of oxygen went up because of photosynthesis by plants.

The proportion of carbon dioxide went down because:

  • It was locked up in sedimentary rocks, such as limestone, and in fossil fuels.
  • It was absorbed by plants for photosynthesis.
  • It dissolved in the oceans.

The burning of fossil fuels is adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than it can be removed. This means that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. Check that you understand the effects of this by going to Combustion of fuels

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  1. Back
  2. Next

Back to Oils, Earth and atmosphere index

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.