75. The Instability of the Air. We are usually not conscious of the air around us, but sometimes we realize that the air is heavy, while at other times we feel the bracing effect of the atmosphere. We live in an ocean of air as truly as fish inhabit an ocean of water. If you have ever been at the seashore you know that the ocean is never still for a second; sometimes the waves surge back and forth in angry fury, at other times the waves glide gently in to the shore and the surface is as smooth as glass; but we know that there is perpetual motion of the water even when the ocean is in its gentlest moods. Generally our atmosphere is quiet, and we are utterly unconscious of it; at other times we are painfully aware of it, because of its furious winds. Then again we are oppressed by it because of the vast quantity of vapor which it holds in the form of fog, or mist. The atmosphere around us is as restless and varying as is the water of the sea. The air at the top of a high tower is very different from the air at the base of the tower. Not only does the atmosphere vary greatly at different altitudes, but it varies at the same place from time to time, at one period being heavy and raw, at another being fresh and invigorating.
Winds, temperature, and humidity all have a share in determining atmospheric conditions, and no one of these plays a small part.
76. The Character of the Air. The atmosphere which envelops us at all times extends more than fifty miles above us, its height being far greater than the greatest depths of the sea. This atmosphere varies from place to place; at the sea level it is heavy, on the mountain top less heavy, and far above the earth it is so light that it does not contain enough oxygen to permit man to live. Figure 40 illustrates by a pile of pillows how the pressure of the air varies from level to level.
[Illustration: FIG. 40.—To illustrate the decrease in pressure with height.]
Sea level is a low portion of the earth’s surface, hence at sea level there is a high column of air, and a heavy air pressure. As one passes from sea level to mountain top a gradual but steady decrease in the height of the air column occurs, and hence a gradual but definite lessening of the air pressure.
[Illustration: FIG. 41.—The water in the tube is at the same level as that in the glass.]
77. Air Pressure. If an empty tube (Fig. 41) is placed upright in water, the water will not rise in the tube, but if the tube is put in water and the air is then drawn out of the tube by the mouth, the water will rise in the tube (Fig. 42). This is what happens when we take lemonade through a straw. When the air is withdrawn from the straw by the mouth, the pressure within the straw is reduced, and the liquid is forced up the straw by the air pressure on the surface of the liquid in the glass. Even