Posted by: Michael D. Austin | June 10, 2010

A Moving Picture of Perspective

Comparative volumes of water and air on Earth, from Adam Nieman

At first, I wasn’t really sure why I was attending yesterday’s symposium, Climate & Sustainability: Moving by Degrees. Years of experience, instinct and intuition have taught me plenty about environmental issues, enough to know what to report to my Blue Planet Almanac audience. But I had clear feelings I should simply show up, taking a day out of busy reporter’s life.

But, as I sat listening to keynoter Andrew Revkin, I then realized that I was sitting among some of the best and brightest minds our culture has to offer. A scenario like that is always worth riding. Kai Ryssdal and Andrew Revkin were recognizable names to me. Ryssdal, because I’ve willingly heard his excellent reporting for years on Southern California’s Marketplace. Revkin, because he’s a friend of a friend-at-arms, John Amos.

When Revkin projected scientist Dr. Adam Nieman’s conceptual photos of the Earth (above) on the screen at the symposium, I knew I’d spent my time wisely.

Nieman calculated the total volume of water on Earth, shown on the left, and our air from the Earth’s atmosphere, on the right. Each are shown respectively as blue and pink spheres.

The water sphere measures about 864 miles in diameter, with a volume of of 335,877,862 cubic miles. This includes all the water in the oceans, seas, ice caps, lakes and rivers as well as ground water – and in our atmosphere.

The air sphere measures 1,242 miles across. Because it’s not quick and easy for me to convert from Nieman’s metric tonnes, I’m leaving that number alone to convert on your own if you like. But he wrote that it weighs about 5,140 trillion tonnes. Two things worth remembering about atmosphere: As it arises from Earth it becomes less dense. Half of our air lies inside the 3 miles closest to us.

This helps put everything we do in perspective, eh?


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