Earth's Atmospheric Composition

Lecturer:  Paul Palmer

Lecture times: Twice/week in S1

Course description

We will explore the chemical composition of the atmosphere, with an emphasis on the troposphere that includes the air in which we live and breath, and the surface processes and atmospheric chemistry and transport that determine its variability. We will cover the fundamentals of atmospheric chemistry (kinetics, photolysis, spectroscopy) so there is no chemistry pre-requisite to this course. The course, as described below, is focused on delivering content using online material, in-class interaction, problem sets and additional reading. 

Summation Assessment

  • Take-home 500-word research essay (33%), and final exam (67%). 
  • Guidance will be provided online for the essay before it is circulated.
  • Online pop quizzes will supplement the formal teaching. These will be used as teaching aids and supported by additional compulsory classes led by teaching assistants.


There are no chemistry prerequisites for this course but some knowledge would be useful. Within GeoSciences the only mathematics prerequisite is successful completion of Earth Modelling and Prediction that incorporates calculus.

Course Schedule

We will be using an inverted lecture model in which core (book-work) material is delivered on-line before the physical lecture that can then focus on understanding material, current science and problem solving. 

 Week  Online material In-class material   Problem set
(not in 2014/15)
 Research Essay  Additional reading
  • Introduction;
  • teaching philosophy
  • properties of the atmosphere; 
  • stoichiometry; 
  • chemical thermodynamics/kinetic;
  • radiative transfer and photochemistry.
  • Stratospheric chemistry 
Tropospheric chemistry:
  • CO
  • NOx and ozone
  • HCHO and ozone 
Tropospheric chemistry:
  • Complex hydrocarbons
  • Removal processes
Atmospheric chemistry and transport
  • Observations
  • Modelling 
Tropospheric chemistry:
  • Heterogeneous processes, inc aerosols and clouds
 7 Inverse methods
 8 Global carbon cycle; CH4 and N2O bio-geochemical cycles; isotopes   **     
 9 Past climates; chemistry-climate interactions; air quality and human health.        
 10  Reserved for completing research essay      **  
* Start; ** Submit

Recommended Textbooks

  • Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry by Daniel Jacob
  • Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics by Seinfeld and Pandis
  • Biogeochemistry: an analysis of global change, Schlesinger
Additional reading

Additional material will be available for many lectures. This is for the benefit of interested students who wish to read further around the subject material, with the anticipation that this will lead to an enhanced educational experience. The material will not form the basis of your examination in any form. 

Office Hours

The hour immediately after the first lecture in the week.