Ways of the Weather: A Cultural Survey of Meteorology

By W. J. Humphreys | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE ATMOSPHERE: ORIGIN AND COMPOSITION

The most primitive man--the wildest savage--recognizes a wind when out in it, but it took a Greek philosopher to tell us what it is: air in motion. What motion is we know, at least well enough for practical purposes, but what is air? What is that invisible and odorless something we breathe and therefore call atmosphere, the thing that affords us all our weather perceptions and whose states and conditions we have learned to measure and even to foretell, and what was its origin?

Origin of the atmosphere. To start as nearly as possible at the beginning, how and when did the earth ever get an atmosphere--its gaseous envelope? Well, there are two, and so far as we know, only two basic substances, the electron, a certain extremely minute quantity of negative electricity, plus something else, maybe; and the proton, an equally small quantity of positive electricity, plus something else, also maybe. The neutron or chargeless mass is omitted as so little is known about it. Of the origin of these entities no one has the slightest idea. They can exist separately, in which case they are electrically very active; or variously grouped together in equal numbers, with increase of inertia but almost total loss of electric force, at least on things external. Every such group that is stable, or even measurably durable, is a chemical element. There are no other elements, and this number is limited. Furthermore, though occurring in unequal quantities, all these elements appear to be distributed throughout the universe. Most of those known on the earth have been found in the sun, for instance, and we believe the others are there, too, even if in such relatively small amounts as to be difficult of detection. Hence, when that other star, according to one cosmic theory, some three billion four hundred million years ago, passed so near (within a thousand million miles,

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Ways of the Weather: A Cultural Survey of Meteorology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface *
  • Contents *
  • Chapter I - Weather Perceptions 1
  • Chapter II - Weather Measurements 19
  • Introduction 19
  • Chapter III - The Atmosphere: Origin And Composition 47
  • Chapter IV - Structure of the Atmosphere 71
  • Summary 89
  • Chapter V - Distribution of Temperature 90
  • Chapter VI - Distribution of Water Vapor 113
  • Chapter VII - Distribution and Changes of Atmospheric Pressure 133
  • Chapter VIII - Wind 150
  • Chapter IX - Precipitation 172
  • Chapter X - Atmospheric Electricity 210
  • Chapter XI - Weather Music 250
  • Chapter XII - Atmospheric Optics 272
  • Chapter XIII - Climate, Present and Past 294
  • Chapter XIV - Weather Control 323
  • Chapter XV - What of It? 336
  • Chapter XVI - Meteorological Mileposts 357
  • Index 393
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