Dr Sivaram Hariharan

Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, PSG College of Pharmacy

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Air Air Everywhere but O2 Nowhere . (Is it possible for oxygen levels on Earth to irreversibly plummet?)

Just like water has become undrinkable in many parts of the developing world and where bottled water has become the norm, I was wondering that is it possible that the planet loses its ability to maintain the oxygen content in the air due to nonstop pollution, burning of fossil fuels, as well as denudation of forests. Is it possible that somewhere the dynamics of the atmosphere will hit the tipping point and oxygen levels to plummet irreversibly. Who knows? This was the theme of my recent short story on siliconindia.com titled "Air Air Nowhere", where I had envisioned a world where the oxygen levels have plummeted to that found on the top of Mt Everest, forcing the use of oxygen cylinders for survival of humanity even at mean sea level. What do climate and atmosphere modelers have got to say in this regard? I had interesting debates with my friends in Bhaarath (India) in this regard. Would certainly love to get feedback and viewpoints on this. Dr Sivaram Hariharan Bhaarath (India)

  • Mar 3 2013: I think you might want to research photo-plankton a bit more. They out produce trees when it comes to filtering carbon dioxide from the air and producing oxygen. The Amazon forrest keeps all its input & output right there 24/7 & does not share with rest of world. So the air you breath right now is thanks, in large part, to Photo-plankton. Wat we are doing to the oceans and other bodies of water is causing a huge kill off in these creatures. So goes them -we too will go.
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      Mar 3 2013: The thread here is more concerned with the dynamics of maintenance of O2 levels rather than how O2 is generated. My POV here is how we humans have taken this life-sustaining thin blanket of air for granted. When I say thin, I mean it in comparison with the radius of the earth sphere. The thickness of the atmosphere from MSL to the stratosphere pales in comparison with the radius of our planet. Hypothetically, if we could shrink our earth to the size of a standard sized basketball. the air would be no greater than few microns thick (someone help me with the exact mathematical proportions here). In this context, I believe that we humans are dangerously playing around the margins by our increasing carbon footprint as well as irreversible destruction of natural habitats. Forget about the scenario where O2 levels become zero, the scenario of O2 levels falling to say even 75% of what it is now, will mean catastrophic consequences for our ecosystem. This is what I wanted to say at the origin of this thread Gale. Thanks for ur response. Dr Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (India).
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    Josh S

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    Mar 5 2013: I think its important to note that at one time, there was no oxygen in the atmoshpere, and there is only now because of plant life, both in the oceans and on land. I dont think it can irreversibly plummet because it has already been at '0'. Its a pretty cool balance we have, if co2 levels get high, plant life increases, and so does oxygen, and then we're back to where we started! of course you could argue we could kill all plant life, but technically, we'll always have our reserves (atleast in the US that i know about) where wildlife is left to grow. But honestly, in the long term ( like millions of years) the Earth's oxygen levels will never be irreversibly low simply because they've already been at 0.
  • Mar 3 2013: I understood your question but I wanted to advise that we need to maintain the waters of the world thus helping the air quality. I am afraid that tipping point has already been reached and gone far beyond.
  • Mar 3 2013: It takes one hextor of trees to produce the oxygen for one human being. I see trees cut down everyday where Ilive, farm country. They want to grow more corn and soy bean. We need to stop usuing money as a driving factor for human interactions.
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    Mar 2 2013: YA IT IS 100% POSSIBLE IF WE WILL TRY RESEARCH FOR THAT AND CREATE OR AT LEAST FIND THE SOLUTIONS ON IT...BECAUSE NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE IN WORLD FIRSTLY WE HAV TO PLANT MORE TREES ....START FROM OURSELVES ONLY IS THE FIRST SOLUTION AND NOT ONLY THAT BUT THEN SOCIAL AWARENESS ALSO IS THE IMPORTANT PART OF THAT...
  • Mar 1 2013: Isn't the extra stuff in the air a more likely problem?
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      Mar 1 2013: Anything could happen to this dynamically equilbriated mixture called air. Either O2 could plummet or other gases could go up in their proportion. Regardless, what would happen if this life sustaining proportion was affected irreversibly. Even if we consider all the other gases in this air-mixture other than O2 to remain constant and O2 dropping down, wouldn't that be a monumental global catastrophe. Everyday, we humans breathe in the air and it seems we have taken the air on this globe for granted and do not even think of the situation if the air composition changes for the worse. Dr. Sivaram Hariharan, Bhaarath (India)
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        Mar 2 2013: YA ITS 100% POSSIBLE IF WE TRY TO RESEARCH FOR THAT AND CREATE OR AT LEST FIND THE SOLUTIONS ON IT...BECAUSE NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE IN WORLD FIRSTLY WE HAV TO PLANT MORE TREES AND SEARCH SCIENTIFIC SOLUTIONS ON IT...STARTING FROM OURSELVES ONLY IS THE FIRST SOLUTION AND NOT ONLY THAT BUT THEN SOCIAL AWARENESS ALSO THE IMPORTANT PART OF THAT....