Issue 37 / January - March 2002
A Journey in the Atmosphere
Those daily events to which we have become accustomed are the ones that least attract our attention and interest. For example, day follows night, summer comes after spring, water flows, a breeze blows, and rain falls. We take these for granted, unaware of the curtain that prevents us from seeing their real significance. Consider air, which we breathe continuously. We cannot see what is going on inside the atmosphere, but if we put on our scientific and intellectual goggles and employ our conscience filter, things will become visible.
At first, air seems to be quite simpleâ gaseous mixture of atoms, ions, and molecules; 78.1 percent nitrogen, 20.8 percent oxygen, and some trace amounts of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, argon, neon, and krypton, just like spice and salt for a meal. So far, nobody has disliked this meal,' whose mysteries and secrets are revealed upon investigation.
Air as a Light Source
Air is a mirror that illuminates our surroundings. We cannot read a book or a magazine in outer space, for there is no illumination there. Outer space is a vacuum. Since it contains no molecules or atoms off which the sun's light and heat can reflect, its darkness cannot be pierced. Since the moon has no atmosphere or layer of gaseous matter to scatter the sun's light beams, its surface is bright but the space just above it is dark. The Creator of the sun and the eye also created the atoms and molecules in the air and put them at our disposal so that we could see.
Now let's analyze air, since we depend upon it for our very lives. We inhale oxygen with every breath, and once in our body it burns our food and thereby provides the energy for all bodily functions and maintains bodily heat. It exits through the throat, mouth, and teeth in the form of words.
Nitrogen, the largest component of air, dilutes the concentration of oxygen and makes the air we respire more pleasant. Without it, oxygen would be hazardous and irritating to our lungs. Nitrogen also is a natural fertilizer absorbed by soil and passed onto various micro-organisms in the soil and then to plants. As a result, one of our basic nutrition source components is produced:
proteins. This flow of nutrition from plants to animals to people is a
fascinating example of mutual benefit and co-operation.
Carbon dioxide, another gas, has only a trace (0.03 percent) presence in air. And yet every year, with the help of plants, it is used to synthesize billions of tons of sugar in a process known as photosynthesis. Plant leaves absorb carbon dioxide, the roots absorb water, and when sunlight is added the final product is glucose, the vital food for every living organism.
Oxygen is another by-product. The resulting energy produced by burning glucose enables all bodily cells to function. Photosynthesis stores the energy from the sun as bond energy between carbon atoms in the sugar. Thus the sun is our food source, as the Qur'an points out: And if you ask them who sends down rain from the sky and gives life therewith to Earth after its death, they will reply, Allah!' Say: Praise be to Allah!' But most of them do not understand (29:63).
Let's travel in the atmosphere to learn more about this Divine source of resources. Now we are 10 kms above Earth's surface. We cannot breathe here, and so must use our oxygen tanks. At 13 kms, we start to feel a great pressure that almost causes our eyes and blood vessels to burst.
The Unfelt Load
The gases forming the air apply a pressure of 1 kg per cm2 on our skin. The resulting air pressure plays the biggest role in the meteorological events, for strong storms and hurricanes occur when there is a 1 percent change in it. All living things live comfortably and unconsciously with this pressure.
As we go higher into the atmosphere, the density of gases and atmospheric pressure decrease. Also, the pressure of our bodily fluids rises (our bodies are 75 percent water) so much so that we might wonder if they will vaporize or rush out of our bodies. The air has a great weight, although we think the opposite. Most of us do not know that air applies a pressure equal to 1 kg on a fingertip-sized part of our bodies. We do not feel such pressureâcalculated to equal 15 tons of airâbecause its Creator balances it with an inner pressure that is equally intense. Any disturbance in this balance threatens human life. This is why people cannot live at high altitudes, why mountaineers experience severe headaches and nosebleeds, and why astronauts have to wear pressurized space suits.
Layers of Atmosphere
Scientists divide the atmosphere into several layers, each of, which is unique in terms of its heat, pressure, humidity, and the events taking place within it. The first layer is the troposphere, which extends as high as 16 kms above sea level. This layer, which features the perfect circulation of air and matter, is the home for such events as rain, snow, and wind. At its upper edge, its temperature can reach -56'C.1
But the Owner of the universe, following His own rules, makes the atmosphere work as a giant water distribution center. Light breezes circulate thousands of tons of water (as clouds) and guide the water to the soil that needs it. Air's circulation is moderated so perfectly that no area is ever always wet or dry, and even deserts and rainforests receive what they need to survive.
As Earth's axis has a slant of about 23', northern countries receive less energy than southern countries. The result of this seeming disparity in energy levels is the efficient flow of hot air to colder areas so that each area has its energy needs met. Hot air forms low pressure systems as it rises, while cold air forms high pressure systems as it sinks. Wind patterns blow cold air to the south and hot air to the north, forming an ideal system that spreads water vapor, as well as heat, energy, and even pollen, throughout the globe according to need. All of this allows the storage of heat at the equator in the form of energy to spread air and wind around the planetâa sort of global heat machine programmed by its Creator to serve life.
Air temperature drops by 0.61'C for every 100 meters increase in altitude.2 When the ascending air goes into troposphere (the kitchen of the atmosphere), its steam condenses into small droplets. Then clouds, a sign of God's Mercy, start to form. The thin droplets in these clouds transform into separate ice crystals whenever the temperature drops below 0'C, just like a large army, and fall to Earth as snow.
While doing all of this, the air in our lungs and veins helps to weave colorful motifs on each plant's leaves and blossoms. While bringing rain with clouds, it conveys pollen from one flower to another. On its weak shoulders it carries tons of water as well as airplanes, spreads light and transports heat, and brings sounds of all frequencies to our ears and many different smells to our noses. No mistake is ever made.
In warm weather, air's lightness and gentle blowing bring subtle and deep meanings to our heart's ear. Sometimes it assumes the form of a storm, a blizzard, or a tornado that rips apart everything in its path to warn those who do not understand its acts and do not thank God for the blessings it conveys. Through such events, people understand their weakness and turn to their Creator. Those who read and ponder the Book of Universe carefully, especially the page for air, observe such events as Divine indications of truth or warnings that should be heeded.
An Amazing Filter
The troposphere, the atmosphere's first layer, is 8 kms thick at the poles and 17 kms thick at the equator. Its highest point is around 22 kms. After this comes the stratosphere, which is about 50 kms thick and has a higher temperature. This layer prevents the sun's high energy radiations from reaching Earth. The ozone layer, which is vital for life on Earth, is located in the stratosphere. Ozone, which filters the sun's hazardous rays, is a compound made of three oxygen atoms. The ultraviolet rays convert oxygen molecules into ozone by combining with oxygen.
Some human-made chemical products harm the ozone layer and thus enable ultraviolet rays to reach Earth's surface. One result has been an anomalous increase in cancer rates, as high-energy ultraviolet rays have very short wavelengths and thus can potentially break the bonds of DNA molecules. These waves, if they reach Earth, also heat up Earth's atmosphere. An increase of 10 C is enough to cause blood and sap to boil.
Thus we can understand the ozone layer's role in maintaining this very sensitive balance. Those who claim that such perfection is casual are unable to read the signs God sends to His creatures.
To appreciate these blessings, consider the moon: Its diurnal temperature reaches 120'C, while its nocturnal temperature plunges to -150'C. It is a desolate, silent, and dead place constantly afflicted by meteor showers and ultraviolet rays. This does not happen on Earth, because the carbon dioxide and water molecules in its atmosphere absorb the sun's excess radiation. This limits the temperature rise during the day and preserves heat for the night. The atmosphere screens hazardous radiation from the sun during the day and preserves the temperature at night. This roof' gives our planet a moderate climate, while other planets suffer from extreme temperatures.
The water in oceans and seas, which cover approximately 75 percent of Earth's surface, regulates Earth's climate. It protects the land from the freezing polar climate and from the scorching temperature of the tropics. Land easily radiates the energy absorbed from the sun's radiation and thereby ensures a moderate climate.
Although the oceans and seas face higher radiation rates, it is hard to raise their temperatures. Millions of solar calories from the sun are needed to raise the water's temperature by only a couple of degrees Celsius. Also, this water does not cool easily. This resistance to temperature change enables it to regulate the climate and provide water to the land via evaporation. If the land-sea/ocean ratio were lower, Earth would be full of deserts. Given this, how can we not see the plan of the Artist who created the universe with infinite wisdom?
The next level, the mesosphere, extends for the next 80 kms.3 It protects Earth from the meteors that used to scare the Vikings. This is vital, for many meteors fall to Earth every day, as Earth's gravitational pull attracts them. Also known as shooting stars, they disappear when they enter the atmosphere, for the combination of great speed and atmospheric air reduces them to dust. Without this shield, we would face the meteors every day, just as the astronauts who visited the moon discovered. This dust then goes on to form clouds by joining with water particles until a certain density is reached and the resulting mercy of rain falls to Earth according to a physical and mathematical plan.
A Mirror for Radio Waves
Now we come to the ionosphere, which extends for the next 400 kms. Here, all particles have either a negative or a positive electrical charge.
People were astonished when the wireless radio was invented. However, scientists saw a huge problem: Since radio waves must travel on a straight path, and Earth is a sphere, they could travel only 100 kms. But in 1901, England and Canada were able to communicate via wireless radio across the Atlantic ocean because particles in the ionosphere have an electric charge that makes them reflect radio waves coming from Earth back to Earth. The ionosphere was seen to be like a large echo chamber in space.
Thus we see that God took the needs of all centuries into consideration when creating Earth. As our knowledge increases, we discover what He placed there at the time of creation to benefit us at a later date.
Next comes the exosphere, which extends another 2,000 to 3,000 kms. Here, there is almost no air and friction. Molecular collisions gradually decay, and the relative meaning of temperature no longer applies. Thus most satellites are placed in orbit at this layer.
A compass always points north on Earth because of the magnetic field lines. If we follow this direction, we reach the North Pole. Such knowledge enables us to navigate on land, sea, and air quite easily.
The poles are situated at opposite ends of a hypothetical axis passing from the middle of a hypothetical circle forming the equator. But they are only geographicalânot magneticâpoles. The magnetic North Pole is located at the edge of the Ellef Ringes islands in northwestern Canada, 1,290 kms south of the geographical North Pole. The magnetic South Pole is located at Adelie Land in Antarctica. There are various explanations, but no solutions, about what causes these magnetic fields. One theory claims that magnetic field lines (Van Allen Belts) surround the Earth because of the hot liquid iron and nickel at its center.
This layer, the seventh, largest, and final layer, functions as a magnetic shield. The magnetosphere consists of belts formed by magnetic densities. The closest belt to Earth is 4,000 kms distant. The second belt is 16,000 kms distant and can effect things up to 30,000 kms distant. These invisible belts catch and prevent dangerous cosmic rays and charged particles from entering the lower levels by changing their direction. Thus these cosmic rays (having the force of atomic bombs) and solar winds (high-energy electron-carrying atoms) do not reach Earth. Before any of the atmosphere's properties were discovered, the Owner of Earth and the sky told us about the atmosphere's shielding: And We have made the sky a roof withheld (from them). Yet they turn away from its portents (21:32).
The Balance in the Atmosphere
Atmospheric gases, because of their nature, seek to scatter into space while gravity works to pull them down and keep them. However, a perfect balance ensures that neither development will happen. Using Earth's mass, radius and gravity, and several other factors, the precise calculations and adjustments that maintain this balance are beyond even the imagination of humanity.
If Earth were closer to the sun, its air would be hotter and these hot gases would rise and leave the atmosphere. If Earth were further away from the sun, they would be pulled down onto Earth's surface. If gravity were a little more or less than its current value, the same situation would occur. In addition, the incoming heat must be held for some time. This is done by carbon dioxide.
And yet our planet is a warm and lighted home moving rapidly in cold, dark space. In this home, we have everything we need. To appreciate what we have, all we have to do is compare it with the moon. Do those who seek the source of these actions in blind nature or unconscious and unintelligent reason know that they must assume that all lifeless and unconscious particles must have the knowledge of how to create the universe; how to meet every need and action of all parts of existence (especially of humanity), and also have absolute power to make these processes function with complete perfection for all of eternity?