Topic 1a - The threats to our fragile resource – why monitoring matters

The atmosphere is vital for life on Earth, it shields us from harmful ultraviolet radiation and helps regulate the temperature of the planet, keeping the Earth warmer than it would be without it. It also provides the 13 kg of air we breathe in each day and supplies carbon dioxide to plants for the process of photosynthesis. However, it can also affect us in negative ways, particularly in the case of atmospheric pollution.

It is estimated that pollutants in the atmosphere cause the death of 4 - 7 million people worldwide each year, most of these being in China and India, where the density of human population and industry are extremely high. In Europe this figure is around 400,000 each year. Small particles released into the atmosphere from power plants, factories, vehicle exhausts and from the burning of coal and wood are the main contributors to atmospheric pollution and can impact human health in a variety of ways. The number of fine particles (PM 2.5) in the air on a bad day in a city such as Beijing can be as much as 300 micrograms per cubic metre. The EU’s annual mean limit for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air.

Clorofluorocarbon (CFC) pollution in the atmosphere caused the creation of a hole in the ozone layer, which was found from satellite data in 1985, and resulted in global cooperation to ban CFCs.

Observing the atmosphere can provide us with important knowledge on, changes to atmospheric composition and the tracking of pollutants, which in turn allows us to inform governments and businesses on the impacts of atmospheric pollution on public health, the environment and the economy.

Featured Educators:

  • Prof. John Remedios

  • Dr Matthieu Plu

  • Prof. Paul Monks

  • Prof. John Burrows

  • Dr Martin Adams

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.

Optional Further Reading


Earth from Space

Photo taken by the crew of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969

Earth rise over the Moon

his photograph shows the partly-illuminated Earth rising over the lunar horizon, taken by the crew of Apollo 11 on 20th July 1969.