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Home page > Our Planet > The Density of Air

Our Planet

Air pressure is 760 mm Hg, and its density works out to be 1 gram per liter at sea level, where its viscosity is 50 times greater than water's. These values might appear irrelevant, but are actually vital for human life because, as Michael Denton puts it, "The overall composition and general character of the atmosphere-its density, viscosity, and pressure, etc.-must be very similar to what it is, particularly for air-breathing organisms." (James J. Lovelock, Gaia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987, p.71.)

If the atmosphere's density and viscosity were slightly different, we would find breathing air as difficult for our lungs as sucking honey up through a syringe.

When we breathe, our lungs use up energy in order to pump the air in and out. Like all forms of matter, air is resistant to movement. But thanks to the properties of the gaseous atmosphere, this resistance is very weak, making it easy for our lungs to inhale and exhale. If that resistance were stronger, our lungs would begin to struggle. You can easily grasp this with an experiment: It's easy to draw water into a syringe, but harder to draw honey, because honey has a higher density and lesser fluidity.


If the atmosphere's values of density, fluidity, and pressure were altered by even a fraction, inhaling would become as hard as drawing honey into a syringe. One could argue that the syringe's needle could be made wider, in other words, the lung's airways could be enlarged. But if we did that in the case of the capillaries in the lungs, the result would be to reduce the size of the area in contact with air, with the result that less oxygen and carbon dioxide would be exchanged in the same amount of time and the respiratory needs of the body would not be satisfied. The air we breathe in has the absolutely right density, fluidity and pressure and fits the bill just fine.

On this subject, Professor Michael Denton states the following:

It is clear that if either the viscosity or the density of air were much greater, the airway resistance would be prohibitive and no conceivable redesign of the respiratory system would be capable of delivering sufficient oxygen to a metabolically active air-breathing organism... By plotting all possible atmospheric pressures against all possible oxygen contents, it becomes clear that there is only one unique tiny area... where all the various conditions for life are satisfied... It is surely of enormous significance that several essential conditions are satisfied in this one tiny region in the space of all possible atmospheres. (Michael Denton, Nature's Destiny, The New York: The Free Press, 1998, p. 127.)

Our atmosphere's properties must be right not only for respiration purposes, but also to keep our "blue planet" blue. If the pressure were to be decreased by as little as a fifth, water evaporation over the land and oceans would increase dramatically. Higher water vapor content in the atmosphere would create a global greenhouse effect, dramatically increasing the planet's average temperature. On the other hand, if the atmospheric pressure doubled, water vapor in the atmosphere would be greatly reduced, with most of the world's land area becoming desert.

None of these possibilities occur, however, because God has created the world, the solar system, and the whole universe flawlessly. He has created the whole of the Earth in order to provide us with suitable living conditions.

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