Ozone Layer Depletion
The ozone layer depletion protects the Earth from the ultraviolet rays sent down by the sun. If the ozone layer is depleted by human action, the effects on the planet could be catastrophic. Ozone is present in the stratosphere. The stratosphere reaches 30 miles above the Earth, and at the very top it contains ozone. The suns rays are absorbed by the ozone in the stratosphere and thus do not reach the Earth. Ozone is a bluish gas that is formed by three atoms of oxygen. The form of oxygen that humans breathe in consists of two oxygen atoms, O2. When found on the surface of the planet, ozone is considered a dangerous pollutant and is one substance responsible for producing the greenhouse effect.
The highest regions of the stratosphere contain about 90% of all ozone. In recent years, the ozone layer has been the subject of much discussion. And rightly so, because the ozone layer protects both plant and animal life on the planet.
The fact that the ozone layer was being depleted was discovered in the mid-1980s. The main cause of this is the release of CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons. Antarctica was an early victim of ozone destruction. A massive hole in the ozone layer right above Antarctica now threatens not only that continent, but many others that could be the victims of Antarctica’s melting icecaps. In the future, the ozone problem will have to be solved so that the protective layer can be conserved.
OZONE DEPLETION & GLOBAL WARMING
Although they are often interlinked in the mass media, the connection between global warming and ozone depletion is not strong. There are four areas of linkage: The same CO2 radiative forcing that produces near-surface global warming is expected to cool the stratosphere. This cooling, in turn, is expected to produce a relative increase in polar ozone (O3) depletion and the frequency of ozone holes. Conversely, ozone depletion represents a radiative forcing of the climate system. There are two opposing effects: Reduced ozone causes the stratosphere to absorb less solar radiation, thus cooling the stratosphere while warming the troposphere; the resulting colder stratosphere emits less long-wave radiation downward, thus cooling the troposphere. Overall, the cooling dominates; the IPCC concludes that “observed stratospheric O3 losses over the past two decades have caused a negative forcing of the surface-troposphere system” of about ?0.15 ± 0.10 watts per square meter (W/m²). One of the strongest predictions of the greenhouse effect is that the stratosphere will cool. Although this cooling has been observed, it is not trivial to separate the effects of changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases and ozone depletion since both will lead to cooling. However, this can be done by numerical stratospheric modeling. Results from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory show that above 20 km (12.4 miles), the greenhouse gases dominate the cooling. Ozone depleting chemicals are also greenhouse gases. The increases in concentrations of these chemicals have produced 0.34 ± 0.03 W/m of radiative forcing, corresponding to about 14% of the total radiative forcing from increases in the concentrations of well-mixed greenhouse gases. The long term modeling of the process, its measurement, study, design of theories and testing take decades to both document, gain wide acceptance, and ultimately become the dominant paradigm. Several theories about the destruction of ozone, were hypothesized in the 1980s, published in the late 1990s, and are currently being proven. Dr Drew Schindell, and Dr Paul Newman, NASA Goddard, proposed a theory in the late 1990s, using a SGI Origin 2000 supercomputer, that modeled ozone destruction, accounted for 78% of the ozone destroyed. Further refinement of that model, accounted for 89% of the ozone destroyed, but pushed back the estimated recovery of the ozone hole from 75 years to 150 years.
OZONE HOLE AND ITS CAUSES
The Antarctic ozone hole is an area of the Antarctic stratosphere in which the recent ozone levels have dropped to as low as 33% of their pre-1975 values. The ozone hole occurs during the Antarctic spring, from September to early December, as strong westerly winds start to circulate around the continent and create an atmospheric container. Within this polar vortex, over 50% of the lower stratospheric ozone is destroyed during the Antarctic spring. As explained above, the overall cause of ozone depletion is the presence of chlorine-containing source gases (primarily CFCs and related halocarbons). In the presence of UV light, these gases dissociate, releasing chlorine atoms, which then go on to catalyze ozone destruction. The Cl-catalyzed ozone depletion can take place in the gas phase, but it is dramatically enhanced in the presence of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs). These polar stratospheric clouds form during winter, in the extreme cold. Polar winters are dark, consisting of 3 months without solar radiation (sunlight). Not only lack of sunlight contributes to a decrease in temperature but also the polar vortex traps and chills air. Temperatures hover around or below -80 °C. These low temperatures form cloud particles and are composed of either nitric acid or ice . Both types provide surfaces for chemical reactions that lead to ozone destruction. The photochemical processes involved are complex but well understood. The key observation is that, ordinarily, most of the chlorine in the stratosphere resides in stable “reservoir” compounds, primarily hydrochloric acid (HCl) and chlorine nitrate (ClONO2). During the Antarctic winter and spring, however, reactions on the surface of the polar stratospheric cloud particles convert these “reservoir” compounds into reactive free radicals (Cl and ClO). The clouds can also remove NO2 from the atmosphere by converting it to nitric acid, which prevents the newly formed ClO from being converted back into ClONO2. The role of sunlight in ozone depletion is the reason why the Antarctic ozone depletion is greatest during spring. During winter, even though PSCs are at their most abundant, there is no light over the pole to drive the chemical reactions. During the spring, however, the sun comes out, providing energy to drive photochemical reactions, and melt the polar stratospheric clouds, releasing the trapped compounds. Most of the ozone that is destroyed is in the lower stratosphere, in contrast to the much smaller ozone depletion through homogeneous gas phase reactions, which occurs primarily in the upper stratosphere. Warming temperatures near the end of spring break up the vortex around mid-December. As warm, ozone-rich air flows in from lower latitudes, the PSCs are destroyed, the ozone depletion process shuts down, and the ozone hole heals.
CAUSES OF OZONE DEPLETION
Ozone depletion occurs when the natural balance between the production and destruction of stratospheric ozone is tipped in favour of destruction. Although natural phenomena can cause temporary ozone loss, chlorine and bromine released from man-made compounds such as CFCs are now accepted as the main cause of this depletion. It was first suggested by Drs. M. Molina and S. Rowland in 1974 that a man-made group of compounds known as the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were likely to be the main source of ozone depletion. However, this idea was not taken seriously until the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in 1985 by the British Antarctic Survey. Chlorofluorocarbons are not “washed” back to Earth by rain or destroyed in reactions with other chemicals. They simply do not break down in the lower atmosphere and they can remain in the atmosphere from 20 to 120 years or more. As a consequence of their relative stability, CFCs are instead transported into the stratosphere where they are eventually broken down by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the Sun, releasing free chlorine. The chlorine becomes actively involved in the process of destruction of ozone. The net result is that two molecules of ozone are replaced by three of molecular oxygen, leaving the chlorine free to repeat the process: Ozone is converted to oxygen, leaving the chlorine atom free to repeat the process up to 100,000 times, resulting in a reduced level of ozone. Bromine compounds, or halons, can also destroy stratospheric ozone. Compounds containing chlorine and bromine from man-made compounds are known as industrial halocarbons. Emissions of CFCs have accounted for roughly 80% of total stratospheric ozone depletion. Thankfully, the developed world has phased out the use of CFCs in response to international agreements to protect the ozone layer. However, because CFCs remain in the atmosphere so long, the ozone layer will not fully repair itself until at least the middle of the 21st century. Naturally occurring chlorine has the same effect on the ozone layer, but has a shorter life span in the atmosphere.. Every time 1% of the ozone layer is depleted, 2% more UV-B is able to reach the surface of the planet. UV-B increase is one of the most harmful consequences of ozone depletion because it can cause skin cancer. The increased cancer levels caused by exposure to this ultraviolet light could be enormous. The EPA estimates that 60 million Americans born by the year 2075 will get skin cancer because of ozone depletion. About one million of these people will die. The environment will also be negatively affected by ozone depletion. The life cycles of plants will change, disrupting the food chain. Effects on animals will also be severe, and are very difficult to foresee. Oceans will be hit hard as well. The most basic microscopic organisms such as plankton may not be able to survive. If that happened, it would mean that all of the other animals that are above plankton in the food chain would also die out. Other ecosystems such as forests and deserts will also be harmed. The planet’s climate could also be affected by depletion of the ozone layer. Wind patterns could change, resulting in climatic changes throughout the world.
HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF OZONE DEPLETION
Since the ozone layer absorbs UVB ultraviolet light from the Sun, ozone layer depletion is expected to increase surface UVB levels, which could lead to damage, including increases in skin cancer. This was the reason for the Montreal Protocol. Although decreases in stratospheric ozone are well-tied to CFCs and there are good theoretical reasons to believe that decreases in ozone will lead to increases in surface UVB, there is no direct observational evidence linking ozone depletion to higher incidence of skin cancer in human beings. This is partly due to the fact that UVA, which has also been implicated in some forms of skin cancer, is not absorbed by ozone, and it is nearly impossible to control statistics for lifestyle changes in the populace.
- Increased UV Ozone, while a minority constituent in the earth’s atmosphere, is responsible for most of the absorption of UVB radiation. The amount of UVB radiation that penetrates through the ozone layer decreases exponentially with the slant-path thickness/density of the layer. Correspondingly, a decrease in atmospheric ozone is expected to give rise to significantly increased levels of UVB near the surface. Increases in surface UVB due to the ozone hole can be partially inferred by radiative transfer model calculations, but cannot be calculated from direct measurements because of the lack of reliable historical (pre-ozone-hole) surface UV data, although more recent surface UV observation measurement programmes exist (e.g. at Lauder, New Zealand). Because it is this same UV radiation that creates ozone in the ozone layer from O2 (regular oxygen) in the first place, a reduction in stratospheric ozone would actually tend to increase photochemical production of ozone at lower levels (in the troposphere), although the overall observed trends in total column ozone still show a decrease, largely because ozone produced lower down has a naturally shorter photochemical lifetime, so it is destroyed before the concentrations could reach a level which would compensate for the ozone reduction higher up. Biological effects of increased UV and microwave radiation from a depleted ozone layer The main public concern regarding the ozone hole has been the effects of surface UV on human health. So far, ozone depletion in most locations as been typically a few percent and, as noted above, no direct evidence of health damage is available in most latitudes. Were the high levels of depletion seen in the ozone hole ever to be common across the globe, the effects could be substantially more dramatic. As the ozone hole over Antarctica has in some instances grown so large as to reach southern parts of Australia and New Zealand, environmentalists have been concerned that the increase in surface UV could be significant.
- Effects on Human Health Laboratory and epidemiological studies demonstrate that UVB causes nonmelanoma skin cancer and plays a major role in malignant melanoma development. In addition, UVB has been linked to cataracts. All sunlight contains some UVB, even with normal ozone levels. It is always important to limit exposure to the sun. However, ozone depletion will increase the amount of UVB and the risk of health effects.
- Effects on Plants Physiological and developmental processes of plants are affected by UVB radiation, even by the amount of UVB in present-day sunlight. Despite mechanisms to reduce or repair these effects and a limited ability to adapt to increased levels of UVB, plant growth can be directly affected by UVB radiation. Indirect changes caused by UVB (such as changes in plant form, how nutrients are distributed within the plant, timing of developmental phases and secondary metabolism) may be equally, or sometimes more, important than damaging effects of UVB. These changes can have important implications for plant competitive balance, herbivory, plant diseases, and biogeochemical cycles.
- Effects on Marine Ecosystems Phytoplankton form the foundation of aquatic food webs. Phytoplankton productivity is limited to the euphotic zone, the upper layer of the water column in which there is sufficient sunlight to support net productivity. The position of the organisms in the euphotic zone is influenced by the action of wind and waves. In addition, many phytoplankton are capable of active movements that enhance their productivity and, therefore, their survival. Exposure to solar UVB radiation has been shown to affect both orientation mechanisms and motility in phytoplankton, resulting in reduced survival rates for these organisms. Scientists have demonstrated a direct reduction in phytoplankton production due to ozone depletion-related increases in UVB. One study has indicated a 6-12% reduction in the marginal ice zone. Solar UVB radiation has been found to cause damage to early developmental stages of fish, shrimp, crab, amphibians and other animals. The most severe effects are decreased reproductive capacity and impaired larval development. Even at current levels, solar UVB radiation is a limiting factor, and small increases in UVB exposure could result in significant reduction in the size of the population of animals that eat these smaller creatures.
- Effects on Biogeochemical Cycles Increases in solar UV radiation could affect terrestrial and aquatic biogeochemical cycles, thus altering both sources and sinks of greenhouse and chemically-important trace gases e.g., carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), carbonyl sulfide (COS) and possibly other gases, including ozone. These potential changes would contribute to biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks that attenuate or reinforce the atmospheric buildup of these gases.
- Effects on Materials Synthetic polymers, naturally occurring biopolymers, as well as some other materials of commercial interest are adversely affected by solar UV radiation. Today’s materials are somewhat protected from UVB by special additives. Therefore, any increase in solar UVB levels will therefore accelerate their breakdown, limiting the length of time for which they are useful outdoors.
- Effects on crops An increase of UV radiation would be expected to affect crops. A number of economically important species of plants, such as rice, depend on cyanobacteria residing on their roots for the retention of nitrogen. Cyanobacteria are sensitive to UV light and they would be affected by its increase.
- Effects on plankton Research has shown a widespread extinction of plankton 2 million years ago that coincided with a nearby supernova. There is a difference in the orientation and motility of planktons when excess of UV rays reach earth. Researchers speculate that the extinction was caused by a significant weakening of the ozone layer at that time when the radiation from the supernova produced nitrogen oxides that catalyzed the destruction of ozone (plankton are particularly susceptible to effects of UV light, and are vitally important to marine food webs).
CURRENT EVENTS AND FUTURE PROSPECTS OF OZONE DEPLETION
Since the adoption and strengthening of the Montreal Protocol has led to reductions in the emissions of CFCs, atmospheric concentrations of the most significant compounds have been declining. These substances are being gradually removed from the atmosphere. By 2015, the Antarctic ozone hole would have reduced by only 1 million km² out of 25 complete recovery of the Antarctic ozone layer will not occur until the year 2050 or later. Work has suggested that a detectable recovery will not occur until around 2024, with ozone levels recovering to 1980 levels by around 2068. A 2005 IPCC summary of ozone issues observed that observations and model calculations suggest that the global average amount of ozone depletion has now approximately stabilized. Although considerable variability in ozone is expected from year to year, including in polar regions where depletion is largest, the ozone layer is expected to begin to recover in coming decades due to declining ozone-depleting substance concentrations, assuming full compliance with the Montreal Protocol. Temperatures during the Arctic winter of 2006 stayed fairly close to the long-term average until late January, with minimum readings frequently cold enough to produce PSCs. During the last week of January, however, a major warming event sent temperatures well above normal — much too warm to support PSCs. By the time temperatures dropped back to near normal in March, the seasonal norm was well above the PSC threshold. Preliminary satellite instrument-generated ozone maps show seasonal ozone buildup slightly below the long-term means for the Northern Hemisphere as a whole, although some high ozone events have occurred. During March 2006, the Arctic stratosphere poleward of 60 degrees North Latitude was free of anomalously low ozone areas except during the three-day period from March 17 to 19 when the total ozone cover fell below 300 DU over part of the North Atlantic region from Greenland to Scandinavia. The area where total column ozone is less than 220 DU (the accepted definition of the boundary of the ozone hole) was relatively small until around 20 August 2006. Since then the ozone hole area increased rapidly, peaking at 29 million km² September 24. In October 2006, NASA reported that the year’s ozone hole set a new area record with a daily average of 26 million km² between 7 September and 13 October 2006; total ozone thicknesses fell as low as 85 DU on October 8. The two factors combined, 2006 sees the worst level of depletion in recorded ozone history. The depletion is attributed to the temperatures above the Antarctic reaching the lowest recording since comprehensive records began in 1979. The Antarctic ozone hole is expected to continue for decades. Ozone concentrations in the lower stratosphere over Antarctica will increase by 5%–10% by 2020 and return to pre-1980 levels by about 2060–2075, 10–25 years later than predicted in earlier assessments. This is because of revised estimates of atmospheric concentrations of Ozone Depleting Substances — and a larger predicted future usage in developing countries. Another factor which may aggravate ozone depletion is the draw-down of nitrogen oxides from above the stratosphere due to changing wind patterns.
THE WORLD’S REACTION
The initial concern about the ozone layer in the 1970s led to a ban on the use of CFCs as aerosol propellants in several countries, including the U.S. However, production of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances grew rapidly afterward as new uses were discovered. Through the 1980s, other uses expanded and the world’s nations became increasingly concerned that these chemicals would further harm the ozone layer. In 1985, the Vienna Convention was adopted to formalize international cooperation on this issue. Additional efforts resulted in the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The original protocol would have reduced the production of CFCs by half by 1998.
After the original Protocol was signed, new measurements showed worse damage to the ozone layer than was originally expected. In 1992, reacting to the latest scientific assessment of the ozone layer, the Parties to the Protocol decided to completely end production of halons by the beginning of 1994 and of CFCs by the beginning of 1996 in developed countries. Because of measures taken under the Montreal Protocol, emissions of ozone-depleting substances are already falling. Levels of total inorganic chlorine in the stratosphere peaked in 1997 and 1998. The good news is that the natural ozone production process will heal the ozone layer in about 50 years.
The ozone layer is the earth’s protection against harmful ultra-violet rays that cause cancer. The ozone is a region of the earth’s atmosphere that is 12 to 30 mi above the earth’s surface. (www.encarta.msn.com) The layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that surrounds us is called the troposphere. The stratosphere, the next higher layer, extends about 10–50 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Stratospheric ozone is a naturally occurring gas that filters the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The ozone’s job is to absorb much of the radiation that the sun gives off. There are two forms of this radiation that come from the sun: visible light and ultra-violet light. Visible light waves are the only electromagnetic waves we can see with are eyes and ultra-violet light is the radiation that humans have to protect themselves against. Humans on earth are destroying the very thing that protects us and allow us to continue to live on this earth. Without our ozone all human and living things on this earth will seize to existence. To protect our home we need to evaluate the causes, the effects and the future of ozone depletion. With care, the effects of ozone-depletion will not be too bad. On the other hand, a mechanism for the disposal and safe destruction of ODSs and equipment containing ODSs does not reliably exist in many countries and should be implemented as soon as possible, with qualified and conscientious personnel for the maintenance.