How the Atmosphere of Earth is Perfect for Maintaining Life

Editors

Tyler Fuller

The age of our Earth is estimated to be over 4.5 billion years old. The earliest forms of life present likely sprung up around 4 billion years ago in the form of simple, prokaryotic microorganisms. Since then, Earth has been host to a gambit of life, ranging from the earliest dinosaurs and reptilians to the first human civilizations to the bustling, near-overpopulation we face today. In addition, as human life grew and advanced, plant and animal life adapted and adjusted to a changing world. Earth, from the very beginning it would seem, has been intricately designed with the deliberate intention to support life. One of the most important characteristics of our planet with regards to maintaining biological consistency is its atmosphere. Without it, and without its strangely specific composition, Earth would be a wholly different place and the prospect of it supporting life would be totally out of the question. Religious implications aside, it seems as though Earth’s atmosphere was designed with the specified intent to allow for biological life.

The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery is a compelling book written in 2004 by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. It tackles the concept of Earth, as well as the cosmos around it, being designed specifically for biological life and how this divinely specific design perfectly enables the study of the Earth and space. Over the course of their analysis, Richards and Gonzalez discuss the various characteristics of Earth that enable the existence of life and how if these were shifted around or altered, life on Earth would either be far different than we know it or nonexistent all together. Of the concepts discussed, Earth’s atmosphere seems to be of the most importance. Without it, as Richards and Gonzalez address, life on Earth would cease to exist. This is due to the combination of gases, chemicals, and compounds ultimately enabling the existence of oceans which, in turn, allowed for the development of the earliest microorganisms which would, over the course of billions of years, eventually result in civilized human life.

Earth’s atmosphere is comprised mainly of oxygen and nitrogen. These, of course, are not the only two elements present in the atmosphere, just the most prevalent, with nitrogen and oxygen making up 78% and 21% of the atmosphere, respectively. Other gases, ranging from argon, carbon dioxide, to water vapor, each make up less than one percent of the whole of the atmospheric whole, with the amount of water vapor varying up and down (Earth’s Atmosphere). The composition of gases in our atmosphere is absolutely crucial to the existence of human life by a variety of means. Our oceans’ supply us with a bounty of chemicals and elements that assist with the Earth’s supporting of human life, but it is the complementary relationship between the oceans and atmosphere that truly enables life to prosper. For instance, the oceans are not an adequate source of nitrogen, an element, as mentioned earlier, that is quite prevailing in the atmosphere. Hence, the oceans and atmosphere work in tandem to adequately provide all the necessary elements for life to exist. According to Gonzalez and Richards, “planetary environments lacking a nitrogen-rich atmosphere and continents may not be able to support a robust biosphere” (36). In other words, without the specific composition of our atmosphere, along with its relationship with our oceans, the existence of life would be impossible.

Along with its composition, another vital component to the Earth’s atmosphere with regards to supporting life is its ideal layered design. Our atmosphere contains five layers: the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the exosphere. These layers each decrease in density and pressure the further you ascend closer to the vacuum of space. We live in the troposphere, and much of our air traffic flies through the stratosphere. In addition, the stratosphere is home to the ozone layer, which is undoubtedly one of the most important characteristics of our atmosphere. The ozone layer contains an exceedingly high concentration of ozone, a compound that absorbs much of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet light and prevents it from reaching the Earth’s surface. Without its blanket effect, life on Earth would likely be unable to persist as temperatures would be far too high to allow for much biological life. Another vital component to the lower layers of Earth’s atmosphere is the greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are an assemblage of gases that enable what is known as the greenhouse effect. Aided in part by the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect is achieved by heat from the sun being absorbed and reflected by the atmosphere. The radiation that is absorbed is then used to heat the Earth while the reflected radiation is sent off into space. This phenomenon enables the Earth’s temperature to be roughly 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it would be otherwise, thus enabling life to exist (Greenhouse Effect). As outlined in Gonzalez and Richards’ The Privileged Planet, it would seem as though Earth was designed with the support of life in mind. This is even more evident in the composition and design of Earth’s atmosphere. The composition of gases present in the atmosphere perfectly compliment the elements provided by the oceans as well as enabling life in their own right. Without the abundance of oxygen and nitrogen, and these gases working in tandem with the oceans as well as with the biological design of animals and plants, life would cease to prosper. Also important to the maintenance of life are the Earth’s layers, in particular the inclusion of the ozone layer and the presence of greenhouse gases. From the decrease in pressure as the atmosphere fades in to space to the thick, pressurized wave of gases in the lower atmosphere, the atmosphere not only provides the elements and compounds necessary to support life, it also acts as an incubator enabling the life to grow. Whether or not an almighty creator is responsible for this design, it is abundantly clear our Earth was designed specifically to allow for our existence, and our atmosphere is the keystone to this design.