Percentage of Nitrogen in the Air

By Sam Jack; Updated April 24, 2017
White clouds form and drift in the blue sky.

Earth's atmosphere is what allows life to exist on this planet. Carbon dioxide gets a lot of media coverage because of its role in global warming, but in fact most of Earth's atmosphere is made up of the element nitrogen.

Major Components of the Atmosphere

The atmosphere is 78.08 percent nitrogen. Another 20.95 percent is oxygen. Together, nitrogen and oxygen make up 99.03 percent of the atmosphere. The other 0.97 percent is composed of several other chemicals whose volumes are measured in parts per million.

Minor Components of the Atmosphere

The atmosphere is 0.934 percent argon, 0.038 percent carbon dioxide and 0.0018 percent neon. Helium, methane, krypton and hydrogen all exist in the atmosphere in trace amounts

Nitrogen Properties

Nitrogen gas does not have any color or smell. In the atmosphere, it usually does not react. In fact, nitrogen is so inert that it was called "azote," which means "without life." In liquid form, nitrogen is odorless and colorless.

Nitrogen on Mars

In contrast to Earth, nitrogen makes up less than 3 percent of the atmosphere of Mars.

Explaining Nitrogen's Abundance

Overall, there is 10,000 times as much oxygen on Earth as there is nitrogen, but oxygen easily combines with other elements to become part of water and organic materials. Nitrogen does not easily combine with the materials that make up Earth and organic life, so a much larger percentage of all the nitrogen on Earth is in the atmosphere.

About the Author

Sam Jack has been writing since 2000, with articles in published in "Blogcritics," "The Black Table," "The Harvard Independent," "The Harvard Political Review," and "The Harvard Gamut." Jack is a current Harvard undergraduate studying English and Folkore & Mythology.