The atmosphere

A scale model of the atmosphere

A piece of plastic cut from a peanut butter jar is just the right thickness for this model of the earth's atmosphere, about 0.6 mm thick.

On a standard earth globe with a radius of 18 cm 90% of the atmosphere is below 15 km elevation. (about 50,000 feet.) Also the height of the top of the troposphere is 16 km at the equator (and 6 km at the poles) So this plastic also models the height of the troposphere.

Atmosphere Bar, make a model that produces the same pressure as the earth's atmosphere.

The composition of the atmosphere a model Make a clear plastic bottle full of rice with the same ratios as the gasses in the atmosphere.

How to dye rice using food coloring,

White rice is nitrogen and black rice is oxygen in this model.

The dry atmopshere is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon which adds up to 100%


It is also between 1 and 4 % water vapor but this percentage is variable so it is not included in the stanard model of the dry atmosphere. Water is a very important component of the atmosphere since it can change phase from gas to liquid and solid. These phase changes absorb or release a great deal of energy.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is another important molecule even though itmakes up only 380 parts per million of the atmosphere (0.038%)because it can absorb infrared radiation (which nitrogen oxygen and argon cannot.)

Carbon Dioxide Model

A model of carbon dioxide made with hacksaw blades and balls has a resonance when vibrated at just the right frequency.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the last 400,000 years.


The energy that drives the climate system comes from the sun.

Climate Explorer from the Exploratorium

Spectrum, Make a spectrum on your nails.



When water vapor condenses to form liquid drops it makes clouds and also rain.

Cloud in a Bottle, a Snack from the original Exploratorium Science Snackbook, now available free on-line.

Boyling Water, Water can be made to boil at 0°C by reducing the pressure on the water inside a syringe.

Cloud Images from the Exploratorium.

Solids Liquids and Gasses, with water in mind.

supercool water drops supercool water drops in a freezer.

Supercooled water drops 2, supercool water on an ice balloon.

The Weather

Exploratorium weather station. The Exploratorium has a weather station on its roof. The data is available on-line in real time.

 Exploratorium Climate Explorer. The Exploratorium has created a web page where you can explore real-time and historical data dealing with the earth's climate.

Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty

© 2006

2 December 2006