Air-Extending the Research

Author: Aatmesh, Learner, Aged 14 years

This is an extension of a project on Air done independently by the learner. The learner came up with an additional series of questions on completion of the previous project

Air-Extension

Life Forms

  1. Respiratory System.
  1. Defense Mechanisms of the Respiratory System.
  1. Cells and Air.

Fire

  1. Role of Air in the Life Cycle of a Fire.

Storm Systems

  1. The Life Cycles of Storms, Gales, and Cyclones.
  1. Sandstorms and Ice storms.
  1. Impacts of Storm Systems on Life Forms.
  1. Global Warming.
  1. Rain.

      6. Coriolis Effect.

Life Forms

  1. Respiratory System.

The process of inhaling and exhaling air, or breathing, is called respiration. Respiration is a vital process in almost all life forms. For humans, a few organs (lungs, diaphragm etc.) help this process of respiration to take place. Everything in the human body that helps in respiration is part of the respiratory system.

You can inhale through our mouth or nose. Your mouth and nose are both connected by a passage called the nasal cavity. When you inhale through your nose, the air goes through your nasal cavity and down your throat which then connects to your larynx (the voice box). The larynx is located near your Adam’s apple. After traveling down your larynx, the air reaches the trachea (a corridor which deposits air to our lungs).  When you inhale through your mouth, the air goes down passage that connects to your larynx and later reaches the trachea.

Either way, the air must reach the trachea. The trachea is also called the windpipe. It is made up of rings of cartilage and is sometimes visible from the outside of the throat.The main function of the trachea is to provide a clear passage for air to enter and exit the lungs. The trachea extends down to the center of your chest, where it splits into two branches. These branches are called bronchi, which carry air into each part of your lungs. Underneath your lungs is the diaphragm. It contracts when you inhale, allowing your lungs to expand and expands when you exhale allowing your lungs to push out air.

The bronchi are tubes that branch out into smaller and smaller tubes. The structure formed by the bronchi and its branches is called the respiratory tree, because it branches out in the same way a tree would. At the ends of these bronchioles, are tiny groups of sacs that the air reaches. These sacs are called alveoli.

Alveoli are tiny air sacs in the lungs which allow rapid gaseous exchange. The alveoli transfer the air to blood cells. These blood cells flow throughout our body and carry air to and from cells.

The cells in your body do not exactly require air. They need the oxygen in the air, so the alveoli (very precisely) transfer oxygen to the blood cells.

The reason that your cells need oxygen is simple. The food you eat and digest provides you with energy This happens only when oxygen reaches the cells. The oxygen processes the broken down, digested food into substances that the cells can absorb to create energy. Energy is required for all major and minor activities. Upon receiving oxygen, the cells use it to create energy and produce carbon dioxide, a byproduct of the process (explained in greater detail in ‘How cells use air’). The carbon dioxide is the cell’s’ form of waste (poop) and blood cells carry this carbon dioxide back to the alveoli. After it reaches the alveoli, it goes up to the the lungs and out of the body through the nose or mouth. This final process is called exhalation.

This process of respiration provides you with energy for everything you do. When the oxygen reaches a cell, respiration occurs. Red blood cells have proteins called hemoglobins.

Hemoglobin is an protein that is responsible for transporting oxygen to the cells in your body and bringing carbon dioxide away from them. Hemoglobin reacts with oxygen to form oxyhemoglobin. Oxyhemoglobin travels through the bloodstream to cells, where it breaks down to form hemoglobin and oxygen, and the oxygen then passes into cells, gets burned for energy and the hemoglobin remains in the blood.

Your cells do not combust because although the oxygen burns, it happens gradually and is controlled by enzymes, making sure you do not burn up. Enzymes are defined as a substance produced by a living organism that acts as a catalyst (a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change) to bring about a specific biochemical reaction. In normal combustion, oxygen breaks apart molecules (of the fuel) until either the oxygen, fuel or heat runs out (explained in further detail in ‘Fire’).

When carbon dioxide is produced, the hemoglobin transports it back to the alveoli. The hemoglobin and carbon dioxide form an unstable bond which upon reaching the alveoli gets broken and the carbon dioxide is breathed out.

  1. Defense Mechanisms of the Respiratory System.

The respiratory system has numerous safeguards and protective mechanisms in place. There are two kinds of protective mechanisms, ones that are active and stationary and others that are a reaction or a reflex.

The very first protective mechanism is your nose. It warms and moistens the air. The hairs inside your nose are called the nasal hairs. They make sure that any unwanted particles that you inhale with the air get trapped in them. When you breathe through your mouth, you are susceptible to small particles. To stop any harmful particles that flow through the nose and mouth, mucus is produced just above the bronchioles. This mucus waterproofs the inner respiratory system and prevents aerosols that may irritate. Mucus has tiny hairs called cilia which trap stray particles and send the mucus with trapped particles up the throat. Another organ that acts as a protective measure is the pharynx, it directs the food away from your lungs. The lungs themselves are protected partially from external physical damage by the rib cage.

The major reflexes that expel unwanted particles include coughing, (mechanism for removing excess mucus or other irritants from the air passengers beyond the nose) sneezing (a protective reflex that occurs when the mucus in your nose is irritated).

  1. Cells and Air.

Cells use the oxygen in the air to produce energy. This process is called cellular respiration. During this process, glucose inside the cell and oxygen combine to form ATP.  ATP is the usable energy for the cell. Before ATP was formed there was glucose and another molecule called ADP. When oxygen combines with glucose, energy is released which the ADP uses to become ATP. ADP stands for adenosine-diphosphate and ATP is adenosine-triphosphate. When the ADP, glucose and oxygen combine, they also form water and carbon dioxide that get carried back to the lungs.

Fire

  1. Role of Air in the Life Cycle of Fire.

Fire is a catalyst to a process called combustion or burning, in which substances chemically combine with oxygen from the air and typically give out bright light, heat, and smoke. There are three things that are required to create fire : fuel, heat and an oxidizing agent (a substance that provides oxygen). When fuel of any kind (wood, petroleum etc.) is heated to its ignition temperature, the oxygen in the air causes it to burst into flames, or ignite. This process is a combustion reaction.

Oxygen is needed to sustain a fire. As soon as the fuel loses contact with oxygen, it ceases to combust, thus putting out the fire. If any of the three elements that are needed to produce and sustain fire (fuel, heat and oxygen) get eliminated, the fire is extinguished. Fire extinguishers use this concept to put out fires. Many fire extinguishing equipments contain a compressed gas. This gas is heavier than air because its job is to sink to the ground, encompassing the fire and cutting off the oxygen supply. Some extinguishers use baking soda, which, when heated up (due to the fire), produces carbon dioxide that cuts off the oxygen supply and kills the fire.

Storm Systems

  1. The Life Cycles of Storms, Gales, and Cyclones.

Storms are violent disturbances of the atmosphere involving strong winds, often sand, rain, thunder, lightning, or snow. There are many different kinds of storms. that are categorized and named based on their severity. There are many different storm systems, from tropical ones to ones in cold places. For example, a cyclone is a powerful tropical storm. The only common point in all storms is that they are disturbances caused by powerful winds in the atmosphere. Gales are powerful winds that are produced by storms. They often sweep at ground level and are destructive. They are winds that the storm lets loose.

Cyclones (also called tropical storms, typhoons and hurricanes) occur when the air on surface of ocean is heated (it contains lots of moisture). The hot, humid air rises, cools and condenses around aerosols (small particles in the air) forming clouds. When the hot air rises, it creates a low pressure zone right below it. Some air rushes into the low pressure zone to fill gap left by rising air. The air that has risen, now cools down and starts to sink to another low pressure area to neutralise the pressure. Soon, the two separate currents of air clash and repeat the cycle. Sometimes due to the Earth’s rotation and large mist clouds in the atmosphere, the winds do not  continue to blow in the same direction. They begin circling towards a centre of the mass of water vapor and other winds. The storm continues to feed itself (over warm water) and expands quickly. The storm system moves towards land. and finally dies out when it loses its source of heat and moisture.

This storm is extremely violent and destructive. At the centre of the storm, is an eye : the only region of the storm system that is calm. This is caused by the Coriolis effect. The Coriolis effect is a phenomenon that causes fluids, like water and air, to curve as they travel across or above the Earth’s surface. This ensures that they circle around the eye and don’t encompass it.

The reason that cyclone spins (forming a vortex or whirlwind), is that the Earth’s equator spins faster than the poles (since it is a sphere). It spins from west to east. This means that an object traveling from south to north directly would move a little to the east, due to Earth’s faster rotation at the equator. This is the Coriolis effect. It is also the cause for whirlpools (miniature cyclones in the water that drag objects to the centre).

When the system moves across land, it loses its source of heat and moisture, causing it to die.

Cyclones and most other kinds of storms are extremely dangerous. There are some safety measures that should be taken. The most important things are to know where the storm is coming from and to grab supplies before evacuating. If the storm is not very severe or you may not have to go to a safe house. Bring as much food and water as possible and avoid electric lines. Precautions that must be taken by people living in cyclone prone zones include inspecting the house (repairing if not sturdy) being alert as to what the meteorologists say.

  1. Sandstorms and Ice Storms.

Sandstorms are storms where large amounts of sand are blown over land by strong winds. They occur in desert regions and are often referred to as dust storms. These sand storms occur when there is a lot of heat over the desert. This causes an area of low pressure and other air rushes to fill it up. For a sand storm to occur, the air that comes to fill the pressure instability must have very strong winds which blow up the sand. The sand particles then get lifted into the air and combine with the storm.

Ice storms are storms where ice is precipitated instead of water. They occur in regions where the temperature is extremely low. When the clouds precipitate, the water droplets freeze due to the cold air, and upon reaching the ground, become ice.

  1. Impacts of Storm Systems on Life Forms.

Powerful storms like cyclones have devastating affects on all life forms.

During these storms, hundreds of birds get displaced from their habitat (if they survive in the powerful winds). Sea creatures get washed ashore (during cyclones). Millions of trees get uprooted and smashed into neighboring objects or places causing destruction, loss of trees and more cleanup work after the storm. Salt water combines with fresh water, killing freshwater animals that can’t handle the higher salt content.

Other kinds of storms like sand, ice and thunderstorms might kill humans and animals alike. They destroy all habitats and leave an aftermath that requires a lot of attention (debris and other problems).

  1. Global Warming.

Global warming is defined as a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and is generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants. Global warming occurs in two major ways : the greenhouse effect, and the emission of chlorofluorocarbons.

The greenhouse effect is caused by gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat. These gases are called greenhouse gases and are essential for life on Earth because they keep our planet warm. The rays from the Sun (after reflecting back from the Earth’s surface) get trapped in these gases so that when night falls, the temperature doesn’t drop too drastically. These gases let light and heat pass through them from the Sun to the Earth at day. They also bounce back some heat into space (making sure that the Earth doesn’t get too hot). During the night, all the heat which was absorbed by roads, pavements etc (during the day), gets emitted back into space. Over the course of it being absorbed, the frequency of the light rays get altered and they are reflected back out as infrared rays. This would make our planet extremely cold, but the greenhouse gases capture that heat (frequency of light rays; different types are explained in the next paragraph). Greenhouse gases seem to be useful, but problems arise when there is an excess of them. With too many greenhouse gases, the average temperature on the Earth slowly rises and life that cannot adapt perishes. This is the greenhouse effect (named so because of its procedural similarities to that of a greenhouse).

The electromagnetic spectrum categorizes electromagnetic waves (our Sun emits electromagnetic waves). Waves with higher frequencies like X-rays and gamma rays are on the left side, while waves with lower frequencies are on the opposite side. The electromagnetic spectrum also has visible rays, which are all the colors that we can see. On either side of the visible rays, are rays that are just outside our capabilities of sight, ultraviolet (higher frequencies than visible rays) and infrared (lower frequencies than visible rays) radiation. Though the sun emits all of the different kinds of electromagnetic radiation, 99% of its rays are in the form of visible light, ultraviolet rays, and infrared rays (also known as heat).

The rays from the sun pass through the outer few layers of the atmosphere in order to reach the Earth. Ultraviolet rays, also known as UV rays are harmful since they may cause eye cataracts, nasty skin burns and, worst of all they kill plankton.

Plankton are the microscopic organisms that drift or float on the surface of the sea or freshwater. They are the base for the oceanic food chain, meaning that they are indirectly, the food for every aquatic animal. A food chain is a hierarchical series of organisms each dependent on the next as a source of food, so plankton are  vital for survival of aquatic life forms.

UV rays would have harmed or killed a large number of animals, if not for the ozone layer in our lower atmosphere. The ozone layer provides protection from U.V rays by bouncing them back into space. Chemicals called CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons are extremely volatile and dangerous since they destroy ozone molecules. CFCs upon reaching the stratosphere, get latched onto ozone molecules and remove an oxygen atom from them, making them oxygen gas molecules. The oxygen gas is defenseless against UV rays (Moreover, the CFC molecule that joins with the oxygen atom, has the capacity to become a greenhouse gas!). If this keeps happening, there will be no ozone layer left to protect life forms on Earth.

  1. Rain.

Rain is defined as moisture condensed in the atmosphere that falls visibly in separate drops.

Rain is a form of precipitation, as are snow and hail. Most forms of precipitation are made up of the same compound, H20 commonly known as water. The process of rain begins with evaporation.

Any body of water has the potential to be evaporated. Evaporation literally means “turn (from liquid) into vapor”. It is a process that occurs when water molecules are heated up by the radiation (from the Sun). When molecules in water are heated up, they gain a certain amount of energy. Due to this energy, the rate at which the particles collide increases. Each time one molecule bumps into the other, it transfers some of its energy. This keeps happening and soon the molecules that have high amounts of energy rise to the top where they come into contact with the air. Soon they possess enough energy to escape into the air in the form of water vapor.

The molecules in the vapor still have energy from radiation, so they begin to rise higher into the atmosphere. After an altitude, the cooler temperature in the air causes the water vapor to cease its upward journey and it begins to form clumps called clouds. In montane regions, it tends to precipitate more frequently. This happens because the clouds, when blown by the wind to a mountain, can only move upwards. They slowly rise becoming cooler and more dense. This causes them to precipitate.

Clouds are formed around tiny aerosols in the air called condensation nuclei. After the cloud is formed, the molecules in it turn back into water (or ice depending on the temperature). They are minuscule droplets that start to combine with each other. Soon, they become so heavy that they fall from the cloud in the form of rain. Some clouds appear darker than others. These clouds have a lot of moisture build up inside of them, which scatters the light from above, thus giving the bottom of the cloud a darker shade.

Places with warm air receive more rainfall than colder places. The reason for this is saturation. Saturation (or humidity) is the amount of water vapor present in the atmosphere of a given region. When the air reaches its saturation point, it cannot hold any more water vapor. When this happens it rains.

Warm air has a higher saturation point, so it can hold more water vapor before it rains. The amount of water vapor in the air can be measured by relative humidity.

Since the relative humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air, divided by how much the air can hold, and warm air has the capacity to hold more vapor : Fifty percent relative humidity in places with warm air, feels different compared to places with cold air. For this reason scientists use dew point. Dew point is the atmospheric temperature (varying according to pressure and humidity) below which water droplets begin to condense and dew can form. This means that if the dew point is 70% in places with warm and cold air, you will feel the same amount of humidity.

  1. Coriolis Effect.

The Coriolis effect was one of the most mysterious phenomena. It causes cyclones to spin and is also the reason why pilots have to monitor the ground below planes to make sure they are on course.

Coriolis effect is caused by the rotation of the Earth, along with the movement of any large body or object over the surface of the earth. When a plane is traveling from the equator (A point that is a straight line from the South pole) to the South pole, you would imagine that it would reach there by traveling in a straight line. This assumption would lead to  the plane arriving East of its destination. When the Earth spins around its axis, it rotates from west to east. This means that an object travelling from north to south travels a bit to the west. An example of this would be a pendulum. If a ball is attached to a taut string and pushed with enough force, it makes a full circle. One force is moving it to the right/left (the push), while the other force (string) is making sure that the ball doesn’t go too much to the left/right, thus causing it to follow a circular path. The example of the pendulum is called centrifugal force and not called Coriolis force since it is not acting upon water or air and is on a smaller scale (The Earth isn’t causing it to move from left to right, but the force from the push is). A similar thing occurs when planets orbit the Sun.

In the Southern hemisphere, the Coriolis force moves things clockwise and in the Northern hemisphere, things move counterclockwise (check). This is why cyclones in different hemispheres spin in the opposite direction.

Air, a very precious commodity. Without it, there would be next to no life. With it, we breathe, live and learn.

A project by Aatmesh