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Atmospheric Gases

There are a number of atmospheric gases which make up air. The main gases are nitrogen and oxygen, which make up 78% and 21% of the volume of air respectively. Oxygen is utilised primarily by animals, including humans, but also to a small degree by plants, in the process of respiration (the metabolism of food products to generate energy).

The remaining 1% of the atmospheric gases is made up of trace gases. These include the noble gases, very inert or unreactive gases, of which the most abundant is argon. Other noble gases include neon, helium, krypton and xenon. Hydrogen is also present in trace quantities in the atmosphere, but because it is so light, over time much of it has escaped Earth's gravitational pull to space.

The remaining trace gases include the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour and ozone, so-called because they are involved in the Earth natural greenhouse effect which keeps the planet warmer than it would be without an atmosphere.