Chemical and photochemical reactions in the atmospheres

Reactions of many trace gases found in the atmosphere with the hydroxyl radical exert a profound effect on the composition of atmosphere. Reactions with some of the atmospheric trace gases are discussed below.


Biologically produced sulfur gases are emitted into the atmosphere mainly as sulphides such as dimethyl sulphide, hydrogen sulphide and carbon disulphide. All these react with hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere.

(a) Dimethyl sulphide: This is the major sulphide emission into the atmosphere which reacts with OH radical as follows:

CH3SCH3 + OH —–> CH3SOH + CH3

O3 + CH3SOH —–> CH3SO3H

The product of these reactions is methyl sulphonic acid (CH3SO3H) and most of it persists in the ambient atmosphere though a relatively small amount may be oxidized through sulfur dioxide.

(b) Hydrogen sulphide: This gas in atmosphere is also attacked by OH radical as follows:

H2S + OH ——-> HS + H2O

The resulting bisulphide radical (HS) is oxidized through SO2 in a number of subsequent reactions. The SO2 can also be oxidized by OH and HO2 radicals:

SO2 + OH + M —–> HSO3 + M

SO2 + HO2 —–> SO3 + OH

Bisulfite radical (HSO3) and SO3 react with OH and water respectively to yield sulfuric acid which is the ultimate product of oxidation of atmospheric sulfur.

HSO3 + OH ———> H2SO4

SO3 + H2O ———-> H2SO4

(c) Carbon disulphide (CS2): This has been experimentally shown to be oxidized by OH radical yielding equal proportions of carbonyl sulphide and sulfur dioxide as final products. However, in atmosphere CS2 may not react with OH radical principally and its reactions with oxygen atoms may be more important.


Most of the atmospheric ammonia is removed through dissolution in liquid water in the atmosphere. However, ammonia is also attacked by OH radical though this reaction accounts for only a few percent of the ammonia removed from Earth’s atmosphere:

NH3 + OH ——> NH2 + H2O

Various subsequent reactions are possible:

NH2 + O ——> HNO + H

HNO + O2 —–> NO + HO2

The NO can be oxidized to NO2 which subsequently may react with OH radical to yield HNO3 and this is effectively removed from atmosphere through dissolution in rainwater.

NO2 + OH ——> HNO3

Hydroxyl radical on reaction with carbon monoxide yields carbon dioxide and hydrogen radical.

CO + OH ———-> CO2 + H


Formaldehyde found in trace quantities and formed in various atmospheric reactions is oxidized by OH radical in the following manner:

HCHO + OH ——–> HCO + H2O

Methane is naturally emitted from earth’s surface. In the atmosphere, methane is oxidized by OH radical yielding methyl radical and water:

CH4 + OH ——–> CH3 + H2O

CH3 undergoes following reactions in the methane cycle in the atmosphere yielding CH3O2.

CH3 + O2 + M ——-> CH3O2 + M

CH3O2 reacts with hydroperoxy radical in the following manner:

CH3O2 + HO2 ——–> CH3COOH + O2

In the presence of some suitable molecular species (M), hydroxyl radicals may react with each other to for hydrogen peroxide:

OH + OH + M —— H2O2 + M

Hydroperoxy radical may be a more efficient route for the formation of hydrogen peroxide:

HO2 + HO2 + M —— H2O2 + M

H2O2 is highly water-soluble and a strong oxidizing agent so it probably plays an important role in oxidation processes within water droplets in the atmosphere.

More in sem3
Equitable use of resources for sustainable lifestyles

Equitable use of resources for sustainable lifestyles Scarcity of resources is the burning problem of modern technology. The twenty-first century will...