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Oxygen is the eighth element of the periodic table, and has an atomic weight of 15.9994. Oxygen was the atomic weight standard of comparison for all other elements until 1961 when the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry adopted carbon 12 as the new basis.
Oxygen comprises about 49% of the mass of Earth’s crust, and 28% of the mass of Earth as a whole. It is the 3rd most common element in the known universe.
It’s not surprising, then, that oxygen is the most important element to all higher forms of biological life. While it may be true that we are “carbon based” life forms, without a sustained source of oxygen, we are only able to stay alive for a few moments. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that we are oxygen-based life forms existing in carbon-based containers.
Today, oxygen comprises between 19% and 20.95% of the air we breath. Carbon Dioxide levels are currently rising at a rate of about 1.2 PPM per year. In 1945 and 1946, Swiss scientists measured atmospheric oxygen levels at 22%. This is a drastic change in air quality. If this frightening trend continues, the consequences may be disastrous.
Scientists, using soil sample analysis to study oxygen levels during the Permian Period, have discovered that the oxygen content during this very “life friendly” period was 30%. Furthermore, these scientists also discovered that oxygen levels during the “Great Dying” period, where massive extinction events occured, had dropped to 16%, eventually “bottoming out” at 12%. During this time when oxygen was at its lowest levels, 90% of all marine life died, as well as nearly 75% of all land-based plants and animals.
“Oxygen dropped from its highest level to its lowest level ever in only 20 million years..”
” …Animals that once were able to cross mountain passes quite easily suddenly had their movements severely restricted.”
- Raymond Huey of the University of Washington2
The shock of an 18% drop in oxygen content over a 20 million year period can hardly compare with the reality humanity is faced with in modern times: A 2-3% drop in oxygen levels in less than 100 years. Activated oxygen-based technologies may one day become a critical component to the healthy survival of mankind, if they aren’t already.
The oxygen we breathe is called molecular dioxygen ( O2 ), a very stable homonuclear diatomic molecule. “Atomic” refers to a single atom of an element, and “di” refers to “two” atoms of the same element bound together. “Homonuclear” refers to the elements being bound together in their elemental state, without a chemical bond with any other element. Our Earth’s atmosphere is made up of over 99% diatomic molecules ( O2 and N2(Nitrogen)).