1.2. A short history of the atmospheric chemistry

Greek philosopher, Anaximenes (585–528 BC) declared that air was the primary substance and the source of all other things. Later, Empedocles (ca. 490–430 BC) described the air as one of the four elements (see e.g. May, 2010). This conception was accepted until 18th century. At this time, a question was arisen: whether air is a compound, or a mixture of individual gases. First scientific studies about atmospheric composition were published in the 1700s. Chemical compounds in the atmosphere were discovered one after the other (Table 1.1) to confirm that air is a mixture of gases (see e.g. Anfossi and Sandroni, 1993).

Table 1.1: Important discoveries of atmospheric elements

Date

Compound

Explorer(s)

1750s

carbon dioxide

Joseph Black

1766

hydrogen

Henry Cavendish

1772

nitrogen

Daniel Rutherford

1774

1772 (published in 1777)

oxygen

Joseph Priestley and

Carl Wilhelm Scheele

1840

ozone

Christian Friedrich Schönbein

1894

argon

Lord Rayleigh and William Ramsay

Table 1.2: Some important milestones of atmospheric chemistry in the 20th century

Date

Explorer(s)

Discovery

1924

Gordon Dobson

developed a spectrophotometer and started the regular measurements of total-column ozone

1930

Sydney Chapman

described theory that explains existence of ozone „layer”

1960

Arie Jan Haagen-Smit

described the emergence of the photochemical smog

1973

James Lovelock

first detected CFC’s (Chlorofluorocarbons) in the atmosphere

1995

Paul Crutzen,

Mario Molina and

Frank Sherwood Rowland

the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded jointly "for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone".

After the clarification of fundamental composition of the atmosphere till the late 19th century, the attention was focused on the atmospheric trace gases with very small concentrations. In the 20th century new research directions were appeared, namely the analysis of temporal variation of trace gas concentrations and investigations of chemical reactions in the atmosphere (Table 1.2).

Today, major challenges of atmospheric chemistry are to describe the relationships and feedbacks between chemistry and climate, as well as the exchange processes between the surface and the atmosphere.