Chemistry

Exploring the Ozone



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A 2006 NASA study has extended the anticipated time for the full recovery of the ozone layer over the South Pole, and scientists have concluded that an additional twenty years will be necessary. A new computer model developed by scientists from NASA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Center of Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado has improved the accuracy of forecasts concerning the restoration of the ozone layer.

The improved computer model can connect various factors such as estimates of future observations, observations from NCAR aircraft, predicted future emissions, and the time necessary for the emissions to travel to the Antarctic stratosphere as well as future weather over the continent. The model correctly duplicated the area of ozone layer thinning in the stratosphere over the previous twenty-seven years and has forecast the recovery of the area of ozone depletion to be in 2068 rather than 2050 as has been predicted until now.

Research scientist Paul Newman, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. and lead author of the study said,"The Antarctic ozone hole is the poster child of ozone loss in our atmosphere. Over areas that are farther from the poles like Africa or the U. S., the levels of ozone are only three to six percent below natural levels. Over Antarctica ozone levels are 70 percent lower in the spring. This new method allows us to more accurately estimate ozone-depleting gases over Antarctica, and how they will decrease over time, reducing th ozone hole area."

The ozone layer is where over 90 percent of the Earth's ozone is located. The gas is corrosive, irritating and colorless with an odor like burning electrical wires. It can be readily produced by a high-voltage arc such as spark plugs or arc welders. Ozone is capable of absorbing large amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and without it ultraviolet radiation would, among other things, severely burn human skin, cause increased incidences of skin cancers, damage aquatic life, and harm plants as well as some forms of microscopic life.

Each spring in the southern hemisphere enormous amounts of ozone are lost from the stratosphere as a result of chlorine and bromine gases which break down ozone. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are created by humans and are the sources of these destructive gases. For every one percent decrease in stratospheric ozone there is a two percent increase in the amount of ultraviolet light reaching the lower levels of the atmosphere. Since this would result in the formation of more ozone nearer the surface, it is not precisely known how much additional ultraviolet radiation would actually reach the Earth.

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